Introduction

At present, there are many websites offering mobile phone spying software. Typical examples of such websites are SpyBubble (http://www.spybubble.com/), Mobile-Spy (http://www.mobile-spy.com/), and Stealthgenie (http://http://www.stealthgenie.com/). By installing mobile phone spying software, one can keep track of the information exchanged over the tracked phone, including SMS text messages and phone calls. Moreover, most mobile phone spying software tracks the GPS location of the phone user. This is possible because a mobile phone constantly sends and receives signals to the nearest transmitter while it’s switched on.

It should be noted that mobile phone spying software is evolving quickly. A Japanese company called KDDI Corporation has recently developed technology that tracks even the tiniest movements of a mobile phone user and then beams the information back to the main headquarters. The software produced by the company works by analyzing the movement of accelerometers which are found in many handsets. As a result, the software may identify activities such as walking, climbing stairs or even cleaning. The company stated that it is going to sell the service to clients, including managers, foremen and employment agencies.

While the technological developments in the mobile spying field are welcomed by companies, human rights lawyers express their concerns regarding the potential abuse of privacy rights. Kazuo Hizumi, a human rights lawyer, stated that “It beggars belief that a prominent company such as KDDI could come up with such a surveillance system. It’s totally irresponsible.”

This article investigates whether the sale (Section 2) and the use (Section 3) of mobile phone spying software is legal. Also, the article examines the symptoms indicating that mobile phone spying software has been installed on a phone (Section 4) and provides instructions on how to remove mobile phone spying software (Section 5). Finally, a conclusion is drawn (Section 6).

The sale of mobile phone spying software
In the US and in many other countries, the sale of mobile phone spying software is legal. This is because companies providing mobile phone spying software always add a disclaimer stating that it is the responsibility of the user to ensure that he/she complies with all applicable laws. For example, a part of the disclaimer of Mobile-Spy reads as follows:

“It is a federal and state offense in most countries to install monitoring/surveillance software onto a phone which you do not own or have proper authorization to install. It may also be an offense in your jurisdiction to monitor the activities of other individuals. Check all state, federal and local laws before installing any Cell Phone Spy Software such as Mobile Spy. You must always notify a person they are being monitored if they are over age 18. Federal or local law governs the use of some types of software; it is responsibility of the user to follow such laws.”

Basically, all companies say that the buyers of their software are solely responsible for complying with the applicable laws. In reality, many people will ignore the law and use this software for unlawful purposes. So, while the sale of mobile phone spying software is completely legal, it certainly raises moral concerns.

Companies selling such software know that many buyers will use it illegally. It is difficult to believe that someone who wants to know whether or not his spouse is cheating on him will ask her for permission to install mobile phone spying software on her phone. Nevertheless, many providers of this software advertise their product as a means to catch a cheating spouse.

The use of mobile phone spying software

As long as the user complies with the applicable laws, there is nothing illegal in the use of mobile phone spying software. However, the illegal use of such software may have harsh consequences for the person violating the laws. US federal law allows recording of phone calls and other electronic communications with the consent of at least one party to the call, and a majority of states and territories have adopted laws based on the federal standard. It should be noted, however, that twelve states require the consent of all parties to the call under most circumstances. These twelve states are California, Connecticut, Florida, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, and Washington. For more about the state and federal laws in the US, please look at the comprehensive guide to Electronic Surveillance Laws published by National Conference of State Legislatures, which is available at http://www.ncsl.org/issues-research/telecom/electronic-surveillance-laws.aspx.

Below, I discuss the use of mobile phone spying software for monitoring children, employees, and spouses.

Children

In most countries, it is legal for parents to monitor the phones of their children since they are responsible for their children’s safety. With such software, parents have the opportunity to use an additional safety option in case they have problems with their children. For example, a testimony published on the website of Mobile-Spy states:

“Our daughter stole our truck, bank cards, credit cards and the phone. The only way to find her was by tracking the SMS with your software. The police were able to catch her with the messages. We would not have caught her as fast as we did without Mobile Spy. Adam D”

Employees

In the US, employers may generally monitor and even record their employees’ phone conversations with a few restrictions. In this regard, it is worth mentioning that the laws of California require that all parties of any conversation are informed that they are being recorded or monitored. The parties should be informed either by putting a beep tone on the line or playing a recorded message (See California Public Utilities Commission General Order 107-B, www.cpuc.ca.gov/Published/Graphics/567.pdf).

By tracking the cell phones of employees, the employer may not only receive information about the working habits of their employees, but also find out if there is leak of confidential information. For example, in a testimonial published on the website StealthGenie, a Mr. B. Cortes states:

Want to learn more?? The InfoSec Institute Ethical Hacking course goes in-depth into the techniques used by malicious, black hat hackers with attention getting lectures and hands-on lab exercises. While these hacking skills can be used for malicious purposes, this class teaches you how to use the same hacking techniques to perform a white-hat, ethical hack, on your organization. You leave with the ability to quantitatively assess and measure threats to information assets; and discover where your organization is most vulnerable to black hat hackers. Some features of this course include:

  • Dual Certification - CEH and CPT
  • 5 days of Intensive Hands-On Labs
  • Expert Instruction
  • CTF exercises in the evening
  • Most up-to-date proprietary courseware available

“I had serious doubts that one of my employees was leaking some confidential information. I tried to monitor him but I couldn’t really figure out the truth. I installed StealthGenie in his phone and then I got to view on the online interface some pictures of very important documents that were confidential and were sent to our competitor and his texts showed that he was being paid a heavy amount to steal the information. I called him in the office, showed him all the details and fired him immediately. All thanks to StealthGenie due to which I was able to save my business in time otherwise I would have been stripped completely and my competitors would have been way ahead from my company.”

Spouses

In the US and many other countries, monitoring of spouses without their permission is illegal. Moreover, the information obtained through illegal monitoring will not serve as evidence in a court of law. So, while knowledge typically is power, in this case it can be a limited power.

Symptoms indicating that mobile phone spying software has been installed on a phone

The following four symptoms indicate that spying software has been installed on a mobile phone: (1) unusually high bill, (2) battery drain, (3) shut down problems, and (4) appearance of new icons. These symptoms are examined in detail below.

An unusually high bill for mobile phone services may be a result of the numerous connections required by spying software for the transfer of secretly recorded data. Battery exhaustion can also be caused by the continuous running of the software, as it will always be active in the background to be able to record events such as incoming/outgoing messages, call history, and GPS location. This background activity often causes problems when a person attempts to shut his/her mobile phone. New icons may appear because the operation of mobile phone spying software requires data connection.

Removal

It is a widely spread myth that, if a phone call is monitored, the participants in the call should hear a noise. In this regard, it should be pointed out that, normally, spying software emits no audible sounds. Such software works in complete stealth mode without leaving any kind of trace behind. Without expert advice, the person, whose phone is being spied on, will never detect the spying software that’s installed on his/her cell phone.

In case a person thinks that mobile spying software may be installed on his phone, the best he/she can do is to request from the seller of the phone to restore it to factory settings and clear out any hidden software installed in it. If mobile spying software is found to be illegally installed on a person’s phone, that person should immediately notify his/her local law enforcement officials.

Conclusion

This article has shown that the sale and use of mobile phone spying software can be completely legal. When used properly as monitoring devices, mobile phone spying software can be very beneficial. Employers, parents, police forces, as well as security experts, are potential lawful customers of mobile phone spying software. That is why providers of such software can advertise and market their products lawfully over the Internet. It is up to the user of the software to comply with any applicable laws. The sanctions for unlawful monitoring of a person’s phone may consist of imprisonment, fines, damages, and attorney’s fees.

While presently anyone who can perform a basic Internet search can find out how to install a mobile spying application and install it in two minutes’ time, not much information concerning the legal consequences of using such software is available. This is exploited by companies who advertise their software with statements such as “Catch a Cheating Spouse,” “the monitored phone’s user will never know that they are being monitored,” “Since 2005, we have helped catch thousands of cheating partners,” and others.

References

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