“HELLO, hello, Garci?”

The infamous line is almost everywhere: on mobile phones and in bargain CDs.

As the nation’s biggest political scandal in recent years continue to take the nation by storm, let’s look at the technological phenomenon that started it all.

Wiretapping, the taking of a signal from a phone connection to allow a third party to monitor conversations, can be done either through line connections or a signal-transmitting device.

Conversations can be tapped by connecting either a recording device or another receiver to the exposed coil wires of the phone.

“Just literally tap onto the wire, put another handset, and hear the conversation going on in that line,” said Emmanuel Guevara, Electronics and Communications Engineering professor of the Faculty of Engineering.

Direct-line tapping, which is done near the user’s line, involves connecting to the phone lines to eavesdrop. There will be drops in signal levels that may generate noise on the line due to loss of power.

Meanwhile, an induction coil, usually placed at the base of a telephone or at the back of the handset, can also pick up signals. It does not drain voltage or current from the phone line since there is no physical connection to the phone lines.

Tapping by radio, another kind of wiretapping, is done by fitting a surveillance bug on the telephone line. The bug, a small device used to divert a small amount of signal from the line, is fitted to a phone or the phone line. Once attached to the line, the bug draws power from the line and transmits signals only when there is a call in progress.

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“If you tap through a transmitter on the line to send you the conversation, it is considered wiretapping for as long as there is no permission from the owner,” Guevara said.

An eavesdropper can also wiretap through phone post cabinets and demarcation boxes, or telephone terminals.

Tapping a mobile phone call is also possible since “cellphones are basically wireless telephones,” Guevara said. When a call takes place, the audio signal is digitally encrypted and transmitted through specific signal frequencies. An eavesdropper, through the use of a signal-decoding device, can intercept a small amount of signal to hear or record the conversation.

“There are so many places where (a person) can be wiretapped: once (the person) steps out of the house, in the cabinets, and even in the central office,” Guevara added.

Under Republic Act No. 4200, or the Anti Wiretapping Law, tapping “any wire or cable, or by using any other device or arrangement, to secretly overhear, intercept, or record such communication or spoken word by using a device,” will “be punished by imprisonment for not less than six months or more than six years and with the accessory penalty of perpetual absolute disqualification from public office if the offender be a public official at the time of the commission of the offense, and, if the offender is an alien he shall be subject to deportation proceedings.”

To guard against unwarranted line taps, one should regularly inspect telephone units and lines for suspicious joints or small wires. If there is reason to suspect a wiretap, it is better to consult a telephone technician,” Guevara said. Laurence John R. Morales

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Resign now, Madame President!

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