Spying on everyone – Cheap and Simple

Introduction

Espionage, or less formally “syping” has become a huge public topic in Summer 2013. Edward Snowden revealed that The American NSA (National Security Agency) and the allied Great Britain GCHQ (Government Communications Headquarters) are surveilling, storing and examing all network traffic in- and outbound the US and Great Britain. The debate covered the Newspapers front pages over month and subsequently more and more information was unrevealed. The citizens of the various states on the other hand refused on accepting these actions. But not many things changed politically, moreover the secret (and illegal) activities were made legal in public presence in countries such as the US, Great Britain and Germany. Reminding of George Orwells’ novel “1984”. Still though, things changed in digital communication such as more attempts and request of encryption of messages and data.

But not only espionage of millions was a present topic the last century, also spying on specific being or a small group of persons was thematized in the Series of the MI6 Agent, James Bond. The use of tiny gadgets was put in to focus every movie. They were hidden in Pens, Watches, Cars or any other object imaginable. It was not rarely mentioned how expensive and seldom these devices were.

Leaving the thoughts of spying governments behind, with their immense financial possibilities. It seemed unlikely that a normal Person can use such methods or access such devices.

Still tough, espionage has a scent of a forbidden adventure. And thinking thus what a normal person could do might inspire one’s imagination. Filming people in secret: What is my neighbor doing (in my garden) once I am at work? Recording voices and sounds: What did the customers discuss while the salesman left the room? Or tracking people or objects: Where is my dog going? Is my wife soon home?

 

Espionage and the legal situation in Germany

The MI5 defines espionage as a collection of information, classified secret or confidential without the permission of the legal owner.

Information can be any part of data. Digital or physical. It can be a piece of Text, an Image, a Video or just Meta-Data.  Since it is classified confidential or secret it must inherit a certain value. And the owner of the information must not know of the access and collection of data, bypassing authorization. In the end, power was granted.  However, laws are projecting this special kind of personal authorization breach.

German law is very strict at this. In the “Strafgesetzbuch” (penalty code) § 202a it states:

Wer unbefugt sich oder einem anderen Zugang zu Daten, die nicht für ihn bestimmt und die gegen unberechtigten Zugang besonders gesichert sind, unter Überwindung der Zugangssicherung verschafft, wird mit Freiheitsstrafe bis zu drei (3) Jahren oder mit Geldstrafe bestraft.

An English equivalent:

Whoever tries to grant access to data, that is not designated for her or him and that is specially protected against illegal access, under the exploration of this protection will be punished with up to three years in prison or a financial penalty.

The core is the special protection of the information in combination with the authorization:

If the Information is not specially protected and probably easy to obtain the law doesn’t apply. On the other hand the it is clear that if a person does grant access it can be specially protected.

But what is about spy gadgets? They are restricted at the “Telekommunikationsgesetz” (telecommunications act) § 90. It states that it is forbidden to own, distribute or produce transmitters that are covered with objects of daily life and specially designed for taking a picture from another person. Penalties are up to two years in prison or with financial penalty up to 500,000 €.

Interestingly there is a close connection between transmitter and taking a picture. Imagine a device does take a picture but won’t transmit it, is not covered by this law.

In general, other laws apply eventually:

  • Persönlichkeitsrecht (right of identity)
    • Right of self-developing freely
  • Recht am eigenen Bild (right of personal image)
    • e.g. forbidding the use of the own image
  • Brief-/Fernmeldegeheimnis (secrecy of telecommunication and mail)
    • e.g. it is not allowed inspect a Letter unauthorized
  • And other personal related laws

 

Spy gadgets & possibilities

So, can spy gadgets be obtained and used in private?

Looking at the image above we realize that this device inherits all small sensors to spy: A small camera, a small microphone, GPS-Sensors. Smartphones were the first devices who brought all sensors together and gave them to the masses. Availability of the single components grew dramatically and the prices sunk.

Since most new cars also inherit those sensors the trend is stable.

And covering them as daily devices? Allowed, once they do not incorporate a sending ability if take pictures (or record a video). Sending, when recording a GPS-Signal on the other hand is allowed.

The important thing is that no other (personal) laws must be broken, like those mentioned earlier.

Discussed yet:

  • Legal justification
  • Availability
  • Price
Looking that the Price a bit more detailed:

Buying specially designed spy devices in Germany is a bad idea: The devices are mostly built in China, imported and then resold. The price margin is the price booster.

Instead of ordering in Germany, it is clever to order directly in China. Simple and safe with aliexpress for example, the Chinese Amazon equivalent. Prices for mail to Germany: Under two Euros. Hilariously cheap. The devices on the other hand aren’t expensive either.

 

GPS-Tracker

GPS-Tracker mainly consist of two components:

  • A GPS-Sensor
    • For tracking the exact position
  • A Sim-Card
    • For establishing a connection to the internet or other mobil devices

The initial configuration step happens via SMS or USB to configure the tracker. Any subsequent requests or commands are sent with SMS and the response received via SMS.

Webinterface: GPS-Tracker

Advanced trackers also provide a conformable web interface to configure or control the tracker or inspect the position or the path the tracker was moved along. Advance trackers can also comunicate over the mobil network for providing such tracking services.

GPS-Trackers also provide functions like GPS-Fancing, Distance warning, Battery warning and much more.

Examples:

GPS-Tracker: 6.30€, Mail (to Germany): 1.63 €
GPS-Tracker: 6.04 €, Mail (to Germany): Free

 

Or covered GPS-Trackers:

GPS-Tracker cloaked as portable USB-Charger

Here you might track where a person travles and how long the person remains. Notice that theres no chance seeing what it really is.

GPS-Tracker coverd in car USB-Charger

You can stick this in your cars cigarette lighter and get your cars position at a parking lot….or see where you wife drives?

The scary thing about these things is: You would never know that this is actually a GPS-Tracker and thus never recognice it.

Spycam

Their main components are:

  • Mini cam
    • In order to take picutures or record a video
  • SD-Card or internal flash memory
    • For storing the pictures or video
  • Microphone (optional)
    • For recording voices and sounds

Spycams have often two modes:

  • Manual recording
    • Person actively starts the recording of a video
  • Automatic triggering
    • Once something changes in the observed area, recording starts automatically or a picture will be shot (motion detection)

The recorded videos are extracted in the end via USB or SD-Card.

Examples:

Cloak: Powerbank, Functions: Camera, Microphone, Motionsensor

Possible: Charge the smartphone while recording a collegue entering his password

 

Cloak: Watch, Functions: Camera

Camera and IR-Sensor hidden at the bottom over the 25, 30 and 35.

Possible: Walk through the factory and record the production secrets.

 

Cover: Pen, Functions: Camera

Or attached to your shirt?

 

Cloak: Picture frame, Features: Camera (IR as well)

Camera hidden at the lower left.

Track who enters your house, they will only see a nice picture. You will see them.

 

Ethical acceptable espionage

Spying on collegues or employees is a sad fact in the most countries in the world, also Germany has such problems (Telekom, LIDL, …) But spying on people can be a valid option. Imagining old people with demencia. Often it is not possible to track people with demencia constantly. If they walk away in a confused state nobody knows where they went and cause stress for both, the confused person and the caretaker. Having such people tracked is valid as long as it has a protective manner not limiting them in their right and freedom. This topic will grow bigger since the number of old people is growing and so the numbers of people with demencia or other diseases with distraction and confusion. Being able to take action as soon as they walk away due to the alarm of a geofance, makes it easy to bring the person back and reduce the stress level.

Personal protection is also a valid topic, as long as no others are harmed by that supervision. This is imaginable at a balcony a burglar used to intrude the home. A hidden camera can support the person by brining back the feeling of safty and help to identify other possible burglars.

Parental duties also incorporate a level of supervision. It might be an option tracing a four year old child walking to kindergarden, knowing it got save there. But is it also ok if it is seven?

 

Final thoughts

It is interesing to see how simple and cheap one can get spy devices on the market. Times where this was a pure imagination have passed. Anybody can be a James Bond to some point. And technology makes it simple to use spy devices in order to track and record people. This is fun on one hand, but on the other it is good if the devices are used with cautions. In elderly care for example, or a mental home. Whenever people lose their orientation and end up in confusion and distraction position tracking can help the people and the caretaker to minimize danger and stabilize treatment.

Espionage in a personal environement must be transparent and clearly communicated, e.g. when the neighbours visit. It must be clear that the balkony is surveilled.

Whenever espionage is used for protection rather then control it can be justified. If control is the basis of espionage then missuse is likly to happen and pervert the cause.Thus, should not happen at all.