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Anti-Wiretapping Technology a “Double-Edged Sword”

Posted August. 11, 2005 03:05,   


Case 1-

KoreaTSCM developed a wired and wireless laser wiretapping detector (model no: R5000) with homegrown technology in 2001. The detector is a state-of-the-art anti-wiretapping system which is designed to send signals to the control center of a security company when a wiretapping device is activated in a specific area. KoreaTSCM signed a contract with an Australian security company to export the devices early last year. But it hit a snag. The Australian intelligence service agency secured the information that a terrorist of Al Qaeda, an infamous international terrorist organization, snuck into the country. The Australian government imposed a ban on the import of the devices, saying that if Al Qaeda gets its hands on an R5000, the government can’t wiretap its communications. This could pose serious challenges to the investigation into the terrorist network. KoreaTSCM is still engaged in the lawsuit which it brought against the Australian government to lift the ban on the device’s import.

Case 2-

Three people, including Kwan (41), installed a high-performance broadband receiver, which is worth four million won, in their new office near an apartment complex in Yangchon-gu, Seoul. The receiver enabled them to listen to wireless phone conversations within a radius of 500m. They found out about the adultery of two housewives and they used the information to extort 65 million won from them. They are now in custody. The broadband receiver, which allows real-time eavesdropping by detecting the frequency of telecommunications equipment, is widely used to locate wiretapping devices. One source from a wiretapping detection company said that it is highly likely that there is a wiretapping device if you detect a frequency which is not allowed. The broadband receiver is very useful for detecting this frequency.

These cases illustrate that anti-wiretapping technology and wiretapping technology are like a double-edged sword. If anti-wiretapping technology is leaked out to public enemies like terrorist groups or insurgents, legitimate eavesdropping activities of the national investigation authority can be undermined.

Pantech & Curitel announced that it had developed new phone called a “secret conversation phone” which is designed to protect communications from eavesdropping, but the company never launched the product. It is no secret that it is because the National Intelligence Service pressured the company not to launch it, citing that the technology that hinders legal wiretapping could cause problems.

What’s more, the anti-wiretapping technology can be abused as wiretapping technology.

According to the Korean Intellectual Property Office, a total of 96 domestic patents and utility patents are filed for the technology to detect eavesdropping devices. Among them, the frequency or voice transmission detection technology can be used for bugging.

That’s why the Ministry of Information and Communication has made it mandatory for businesses involved in wiretapping device detection to register themselves since July last year. Currently, 13 companies are registered. The Central Radio Management Office under the ministry regularly visits the companies to check equipment and make sure employees have the licenses they need.

One source from a wiretapping detection company complained, “Business is slow because we are required to report every detail of our business and research activities to the government.”

Lee Jong-tae, the director of the National Security Research Institute, an affiliated institute of the Electronics and Telecommunications Research Institute (ETRI), said, “It is inevitable to control related businesses in some way to ensure national security, given that we can’t rule out the possibility that the anti-wiretapping technology can be misused or used to undermine legitimate wiretapping activity.”