Is Big Brother spying on you from your pocket?

By Joe Bennett

April 26, 2012 Updated Apr 26, 2012 at 10:45 PM CDT

The fear of constant surveillance was popularaized with a single line, "Big Brother is watching you." What if the person watching your every move is not an authority-figure, but a family-figure?

More and more people say they are victims of eavesdropping, a felony crime happening in Central Illinois. That is all accomplished through the use of legal phone applications.

"The cell phone has made it so simple for people to be stalked."

"It's really very scary for us who are advocating for victims of violence."

"They're clearly illegal. I think first and foremost we need to recognize that."

To begin with, recording someone without their consent is illegal in Illinois. Peoria County States Attorney Jerry Brady calls it a "blatant violation of the law" under an eavesdropping statute. Still, that begs the question, how can a company provide and openly advertise a service that is illegal?

"A kitchen knife could be used illegally in the commission of a crime, but the knife itself is not manufactured with the potential it could be used illegally" said Jon Latorella

Latorella is with a spyware provider called MobiStealth explains their device caters to parents watching over their child's cell phone activity. Companies that provide the phone app state on their website that the purchaser must own the phone that is being bugged. And there's the consent.

Latorella added, "The parent can monitor where the child is, make sure they're at school, make sure they get home."

"You can determine what is being said, you can determine where the person is located, some of them even indicate that you can record and listen to what's being said simultaneously" said Peoria County State's Attorney Jerry Brady.

That means that the spyware can turn your cell phone into a microphone, recording your surroundings even when you're not using it.

"You're not just spying on that person. You're spying with anyone and everyone they've come in contact with" said Wendy Brown.

Brown is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker. She has a client who was recently spied on by a significant other.

She also says there can be unintended victims since anyone can be in the room during recordings. The trick is finding out if you've been bugged, because most people can't trace it.

"But, federal investigators, people who specialize in this, they can" added Brown

Often times such apps advertise you can use them to spy on your spouse. FlexiSpy executives did not respond to our requests for an interview, but the site's online forum shows posts from customers who say they were satisfied with the service after spying on their spouse for months, even years.

"Stalking would be considered patterns of behavior that would cause a reasonable person distress" said Sara Dillifeld.

Dillifeld is with the Center for Prevention of Abuse says the Center has been receiving more information about attackers using such technology to stalk their victims.

Sara Dillifeld added, "When patterns of behavior are consistently controlling and consistently trying to find new ways of gaining that power and control, that's when you know you're in a dangerous situation."

As for those who do use or have considered using spyware, the law is pretty cut and dried. It is the purchaser that is breaking the law by intentionally eavesdropping. The spyware companies just provide the service.

"If we hold the people responsible for purchasing this spyware, then the companies won't survive anyway" said Wendy Brown.

Latorella added, "We work vigorously with law enforcement to make sure that whatever statute may have been violated is pursued."

Jerry Brady said, "The best message is, in spite of it being a disclaimer, it's still an eavesdropping device, and it's still a violation of the law."

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