How to Know If a Landline Phone Is Tapped?

by Aaron Charles

"This Phone Is Tapped" reads a bumper sticker, which further cites the U.S. Patriot Act of 2001, Section 216, stating that all phone calls in the U.S. are subject to government interception without warrant or notification. Since the Patriot Act was renewed in 2011, citizens continue their concerns over private landlines being wiretapped without their knowledge, even though such surveillance is supposedly rare. Add to this, concerns that neighbors, business associates -- or anyone -- can tap into landlines has put even more people on the alert and seeking ways to detect taps on phone lines.

1

Don't buy a "wiretap detector." The Privacy Rights Clearinghouse warns that, in spite of claims that commercially made devices can detect wiretaps on landlines, experts say it can't be done. Such a detector would have to detect a change in voltage drop or in the signal transmitted over the phone. However, according to the PRC, most wiretaps don't produce these changes.

2

Call your phone company. Most phone companies should check your line for wiretaps without charging you. If they find an illegal wiretap, they'll notify you and the appropriate authorities, and they will remove the wiretap. However, according to the PRC, if they find a legal wiretap, they will not notify you.

3

Pay attention to strange noises. Although most wiretaps won't produce changes in electrical signal, the Granite Island Group, a technical surveillance countermeasures company, notes that amateur wiretaps may cause popping, scratching or static sounds on your phone line. The organization VoIP News adds that a high-pitched humming sound may indicate a wiretap.

4

Check the phone box outside your home. Any hardware installed that appears to be new, different or hastily installed is cause for suspicion. VoIP News recommends checking also the "restricted" side of the box, which usually requires a specified Allen wrench.

5

Observe your surroundings for strange vehicles. Utility trucks or vans that you don't usually see and which don't appear to move could be signs that someone is eavesdropping, either on your landline calls or on someone else's nearby. These vehicles are usually 500 to 750 feet away from the wiretapped source, notes the Granite Island Group.

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About the Author

Aaron Charles began writing about "pragmatic art" in 2006 for an online arts journal based in Minneapolis, Minn. After working for telecom giant Comcast and traveling to Oregon, he's written business and technology articles for both online and print publications, including Salon.com and "The Portland Upside."

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