Under Surveillance

Photo: Copyright Merry Alpern/Courtesy of Bonni Benrubi Gallery, NYC

Spy vs. Counterspy
Two private eyes face off on getting the goods and keeping your secrets.

Ask an Expert
Laurence Steinberg, author of The Ten Basic Principles of Good Parenting, defines healthy intra-family snooping.

Gear for Snoops
From high-tech to mundane, tools for discreetly collecting the evidence.

Beyond Google
How to cybersearch anybody.

Spy vs. Counterspy
Two private eyes face off on getting the goods and keeping your secrets.
By Sarah Bernard

Skipp Porteous
Sherlock Investigations

Inexpensive scanners pick up wireless phone calls easily. Most bugs these days are repurposed cell phones. When you call the cell, you’re turning on the microphone. Obviously, the phone doesn’t ring, it just listens. Drop one in a plant, or tape it to the bottom of a conference-room table.

One tracking unit we use is the size of a pack of gum. You can drop it in someone’s pocket or briefcase and follow him in real time. Some have a magnet and attach to any metal part under a car. Just not the muffler, because it’ll roast it.

Half the time, you can type a phone number into Google and a name will come up. Also, if you call 411 and give them a number that’s listed, they’ll reverse it for you.

We have a GE clock radio with a hidden camera. Or you can have an investigator follow someone. We have pinhole cameras that we can hide in a button.

Download a spyware program and send an e-mail with it hidden in the attachment. When they open it, they’re installing the program and you can see everything they do. Key-logging programs and gadgets can also track everything someone has typed, including passwords.

Todd Morris
BrickHouse Security

Never talk on a cell phone or cordless phone. You might as well use a bullhorn in the middle of Times Square. To secure landlines, we have something called a Tap Nullifier that deactivates bugs. Also, both parties can use a scrambler or an audio jammer that generates white noise.

You have to take your car to a professional for a sweeping. It takes a trained expert. We’ve found trackers inside speakers, under the plastic of a dashboard, even under seat cushions.

Buy several prepaid cell phones. That’s what drug dealers do.

Wireless video bugs can be detected with a camera hunter. For non-wireless cameras, we use a nonlinear junction evaluator—it’s like a metal detector but costs $20,000.

Some of the key-logging devices are actually hardware that’s connected to the back of your computer. It’s so simple to look out for, but people don’t.

Fuzzy Privacy
Laurence Steinberg, author of The Ten Basic Principles of Good Parenting, defines healthy intrafamily snooping.
By Arianne Cohen

Are the following acceptable or deplorable: Cell-phone-log checking?
Not okay.

Reading your husband’s e-mail?
That’s crossing a line in a bad way.

Web-history checking?
You shouldn’t be looking.

Can parents go through their child’s belongings or computer?
Not unless you think the child is in trouble. No matter how clever you are, you’re gonna get caught, and it will backfire.

A kid with something to hide is smart enough to know if someone is rifling, and then she’ll think her parents don’t trust her. It’s just like if you find your spouse wiretapping you—the next logical thing to ask is what else is this person doing. Just ask what it is you want to know.

What if you ask and think you’re being lied to?
There’s an intervening step between asking and spying, and that’s saying that you’re going to be looking. Say you caught your child looking at Internet pornography. You say, “I really don’t want you to do this—this is not something our family does,” and he agrees. Then you catch him again. Now you say, “We had an understanding, you broke that understanding, so I’m going to install software.”

What about nanny cams?
How would you feel if your boss installed a private camera in your office?

But your nanny is watching your kids.
If you didn’t trust someone, why did you hire the person to begin with? And, really, if your child is not doing well, get a new nanny.

Are there any items that should absolutely be locked up?
Most kids don’t want to imagine their parents having sex. I think I would’ve passed out if I’d found a dildo in my parents’ dresser. So you’re doing them a favor by hiding it.

Gear for Snoops
From high-tech to mundane, tools for discreetly collecting the evidence.

Photo: Davies + Starr

4-in-1 Binocular Digital Camera
($149 at Spy Shops, Inc.)
So versatile: These binoculars also function as a digital camera and video recorder. The telescopic lens and high-speed shutter produces freeze-frame action pictures and video clips.

Manila envelope
($15.78 for box of 100 at Staples; 212-675-5698)
To discover somebody’s identity, private investigators will pose as a Good Samaritan returning an envelope dropped by the suspect. The I.D. is revealed if the doorman contacts the resident about the phony envelope.

Spy Sunglasses
($699 at Spy Shops, Inc.)
When necessity calls for going deep undercover, put on these sunglasses with a built-in camera. A camcorder (sold separately) in your bag will record everything you see.

Photo: Davies + Starr

($19.99-$44.99 at Ricky’s; 212-949-7230)
Detectives do use these (and baseball hats and sunglasses). It’s still the best way to keep a low profile.

Bushnell Digital Camera
($369 at B&H; 212-444-6615)
The camouflage pattern adds a guerrilla frisson to any surveillance activity. It has a night-vision function handy for capturing after-hours shenanigans.

Photo: Davies + Starr

The DVR Remote Surveillance system
(from $2,300 at Spy Shops, Inc.; 212-686-8890)
Use this device to send your video surveillance—you do have a nanny cam, don’t you?—through your mobile phone, letting you keep tabs wherever you go.

Photo: Courtesy of Radio Shack

Recorder Control
($26.99 at radioshack.com)
To bug a call, plug this gizmo into a phone and a tape recorder—voilà. Or get Spy Shop’s SS-65 digital recorder ($349), which silently tapes up to 65 hours of conversation (or tantric phone sex).

Beyond Google
How to cybersearch anybody.
By Rachel Wolff

Here’s what you know about the nice guy from the bar last night: His name is Bob Smith, and he’s from Flossmoor, Illinois, but lives on the Upper East Side. First, get his possible Zip Codes (at NYC.gov): 10021, 10028, or 10029. To be safe, check the National Sex Offender Public Registry (nsopr.gov). It’s a search–by–Zip Code site with picture and identifying information (height, weight, ethnicity, scars, tattoos) for each registered offender. Continue to Infospace to see if there are any addresses listed for a Bob (or Robert) Smith in one of those zip codes. To assure that he is, in fact, single, go to MyFamily; its People Finder has listings that contain the names of all residents under one name at a particular address. Does he own or rent? The Automated City Register Information System (nyc.gov/html/dof/html/jump/acris.shtml) is a very easy-to-use database of deeds, mortgage payments, and co-op agreements dating back to 1966. PropertyShark requires registration, but it’s free, and you’ll see when and for how much he bought. Don’t forget MySpace! Filter the search by Zip Code for more-concise results. Scrutinize his profile for alma maters, professional affiliations, and a personal e-mail address that can then be used to search for incriminating photos on Snapfish or Flickr. Blog-search with Technorati or IceRocket, using the hobbies and interests you’ve found. If you decide to dig into Friendster, Livejournal, Piczo, and Bebo, you’ll have to create aliases; ditto for Classmates or Alumni.net. Still not sure? IRBSearch offers à la carte services priced, for the most part, under $5. Here you can run searches for juicy tidbits like concealed-weapons permits, an FAA pilot’s license, or a divorce.

Under Surveillance