Couple suspects phones tapped
Published: Thursday, March 28th, 2013
Imagine talking on the phone to a significant other about nothing of great importance when all of a sudden, the line is interrupted with frequent beeping. Was that phone call recorded? Are future phone conversations going to be “tapped?” Sounds like something out of an action-packed thriller movie, but thus was the reality a Custer couple faced earlier in March.
The two Custer residents, who wish to remain anonymous, were on the phone one evening discussing friends, work and future purchases.
“We were talking about our friend getting a girlfriend named Michelle and their relocation to Arizona,” the resident said. “We then changed the subject about how we wanted to purchase a gun we had previously seen for sale.”
After switching the conversation, the line was interrupted by a loud beeping noise. Both residents heard the noise but did not know what was causing it. The two continued talking for 15 more minutes before hanging up.
“The sound on the phone was going in and out and about every minute there would be a range of beeps and noises. We were annoyed and hung up,” the resident said. “About 30 minutes later I received a message about the phone call.”
The message was sent by their service provider Verizon and said their recent call was recorded for security reasons. After speaking with a Verizon manager, the residents were told this was never heard of before, but they signed a contract stating phone calls could be recorded.
“We were freaking out,” the resident said. “A couple days later we found that Michelle Obama was in the area and since we said the words ‘Michelle,’ ‘Arizona’ and ‘gun’ all in the same sentence our phone was tapped into.”
One of the Custer residents is in the communications field and travels for most of his work. While on the road, the two will communicate about their whereabouts.
“We’ve become very paranoid,” the resident said. “A week before this, President Obama’s drone policy was in the news so I was afraid he was going to locate us. I was very freaked out.”
While the phone tapping may sound like something out of a movie — or during the Nixon era — incidents like it have happened. In 2006, USA Today broke a story about the National Security Agency (NSA) secretly collecting phone call records from millions of Americans using data provided by AT&T, BellSouth, SBC and Verizon. The program reached into homes and businesses across the nation collecting the information from ordinary Americans, most of whom weren’t suspected of any crime.
Since the program’s inception in 2001, it has been estimated the database holds nearly 1.9 trillion recorded calls. While the exact number of recorded phone conversations isn’t known, the NSA has publicly stated it will illegally spy on citizens when necessary in an effort to detect terrorist activity.
“It's a large database,” the resident said, who has found out more about the program since the phone-tapping incident. “From what I’ve been told and researched, the phone calls are picked up and recorded when certain words or phrases are pin-pointed. The conversation is recorded and kept in a bank. If something were to happen in the future, these recording can be accessed.”
Many have speculated the NSA’s goal is “to create a database of every call ever made” within the nation’s boarders.
The database has never been publicly confirmed or denied, but it is believed the program’s code name is “Stellar Wind.” Similar programs exist and are planned in Sweden and Great Brittian. More recently, the program has collected social media information from Facebook, Twitter and text messages.
“I’ve never heard about this in my 20 plus years in this business,” said Denny Law, manager and CEO of Golden West. “I’m not sure how this would happen on a line and have never been aware of that happening.”
According to Law, Golden West does not monitor phone conversations.
“I’m sure there are ways a person could do it, but I don’t know how,” he said. “Talking on a cellular environment is much different than on a landline. There could cross-talk between cell phones and picked up conversations.”
Since the Custer resident works in the communications field, phones lines are often tapped into to check for quality and performance.
“In that line of work, calls can be plugged into, recorded and even accessed in the future,” the resident said. “Many providers are also requiring everyone to have data phones, which means basic phones will be obsolete. Everyone will have to have internet and GPS, which only makes it easier for the government to find you.”
Now whenever the two talk on the phone they make the calls short and sweet without getting into any of the details. They have even created code words to share some news.
“It makes for good communication face-to-face,” the resident said. “It’s just a shame that anytime we want make a phone call we have to be very cautious. Nothing is private anymore.”
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