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December 15, 2006
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FBI uses cellphones to eavsdrop on suspects - even when they're off

By Kevin Coughlin, Newhouse News Service
The Seattle Times

It should come as no surprise that cellphone calls may be tapped by law enforcement.

But authorities also can use cellphones to eavesdrop on suspects, even when the devices are off.

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The FBI converted the Nextel cellphones of two alleged New York mobsters into "roving bugs," microphones that relayed conversations when the phones seemed to be inactive, according to recent court documents.

Authorities won't reveal how they did this. But a countersurveillance expert said Nextel, Motorola Razr and Samsung 900 series cellphones can be reprogrammed over the air, using methods meant for delivering upgrades and maintenance. It's called "flashing the firmware," said James Atkinson, a consultant for the Granite Island Group in Massachusetts.

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