Globe & Mail
February 13, 1990
The company honcho talking on the telephone bemoans the fact that the corporation has lost the business deal. "the second time this month that we've lost a bid by less than $1000."
Meanwhile, a headline on the newspaper in front of him reads: "Local Executive Charged in Wiretap." An electronic sweep of the office nets listening devices in the adding machine, telephone, power outlet, and a cord that stretches along the floor.
This scene, portrayed in a demonstration video, and its message -- "You may be bugged" -- are part of a growing world-wide industry dealing in the technology of surveillance and counter-surveillance for corporations and individuals.
"We're not Promoting fear, we're promoting concern," said Kevin Bousquet, who shows the video to demonstrate the CPM-700 counter-surveillance sweep device, one of the products and services he sells at his Scarborough, Ontario., company called Protect Your Business.
Security experts say that corporate and personal eavesdropping is a growing problem, with computerization, increased information technology and global competition, the crowding of communication airwaves and the availability of electronic surveillance products from sophisticated miniature devices to simple products available in many department stores.
The growth of such problems is being countered by an arsenal of products and services that detect hidden telephone, room and body bugs and tape recorders. The protection company also provides facsimile machine scramblers, hidden video cameras and microphones and sophisticated night vision surveillance equipment that would rival the gadgets in a James Bond film.
Among the fastest selling items in Mr. Bousquet's inventory are telephone scramblers, which he calls "the yuppie toy of the 90s." The devices, which cost $1,000 a pair, are strapped over the receiver and mouthpiece on two telephones and set to a special code to scramble the conversation.
The scramblers are especially useful for cellular telephone communications, which are conducive to accidental eavesdropping when signals get crossed and are easy prey for some frequency scanners sold in electronics shops.
Another item, which "sells well to lawyers," is a bug detector resembling a simple smoke detector hanging over an office door. It sounds an alarm when someone walks in with a recording device.
"Under no circumstances am I promoting paranoia," Mr, Bousquet said.
Robin Ingle, owner of Worldwide Security and Protection Corp., said that even large corporations have only limited security provisions. However, he said that awareness is growing as electronic eavesdropping gains ground in Canada.
"The threat is there," Mr. Ingle said. The company's Mississauga, Ontario showroom features a selection of more than 2,800 counter-surveillance and personal protection devices and new paraphernalia is added almost daily, largely from U.S. manufacturers.
Mr. Ingle said there is a need for the products because electronic eavesdropping technology is more and more accessible. Disgruntled employees, competitive businesses or simply the curious are apt to make use of it, he said.
"A lot of people don't mind trying to gain an advantage" in whatever way they can, he said. "There's a slipping in morals."
Russ Donaldson, associate director of security for bell Canada, said that privacy is a concern with the growing volume of data such as computer and facsimile information transmitted over telephone lines.
"Trying to keep your data private and out of the hands of hackers is an ongoing challenge that everybody faces," he said. "Anyone who is not protecting themselves is leaving the door unlocked."
Security consultants say that while high-technology products are advertised in magazines and catalogues and a wide variety is available at stores such as Radio Shack, some can also be easily modified or made by hand.
Alvin Gabrielson, a buyer for Radio Shack in Canada, said the company stays away from products that can be used to intercept private conversations or telephone calls, but he realizes that a customer can try to use an item such as a radio frequency scanner to listen to private calls.
"There's no way I can hold his hand and say, 'You shouldn't listen to that,' " Mr. Gabrielson said. "It is legal to sell the scanner."
One of the most prevalent surveillance devices is a simple nursery or baby monitor, which is plugged into an outlet in one room and transmits sound to a receiver plugged into another outlet as far as several hundred metres away. It costs from $40 to $60.
"You put it behind a potted plant and you've got yourself a full-fledged bug," Mr.Bousquet said.
The security companies themselves sell products that can he used to surreptitiously intercept private communications, such as "taping briefcases" equipped with audio or video and even microphones disguised as pens. However, the items come with disclaimers that they should not be used for illegal purposes
Security experts say companies can help protect themselves against "low-technology" theft and surveillance from inside and outside by shredding documents and restricting access to sensitive areas.