SPYING IRELAND (Day 2) - How to become a DIY spy

HIRING a private detective is expensive, with a day rate of €450.

Derek Noonan, of Spy Ireland, says calls about cheating spouses are referred to their online shop.

“Someone who’s going through a matrimonial issue does not have money to pay a detective, so what we decided to do was take the tools that we use to the end-user,” Noonan says.

SpyIreland’s inventory looks unremarkable — that’s the idea. The only clue that the double adaptor isn’t all it appears is the price: €350.

“It’s a working double adaptor.” says Noonan. “If you plug the kettle in, it will boil,” but it has a pinhole on one side. A microphone lurks just inside the casing. “There are two types of this device,” says Noonan. “A GSM sim-card version or an SD recorder type. If you don’t want to monitor in real time, you use the 32GB SD card. That will get you approximately 575 hours of recording.”

Noonan, who says none of the devices he sells is intended for illegal use, sold this adaptor to a woman worried that her father wasn’t receiving adequate care in his nursing home. “She has it plugged in beside his bed. She’ll remove it, and play it back in the car. The recording is time-and-date stamped, so she can tell if there are hours on-end when he wasn’t attended to.”

While many of the gadgets on the SpyIreland site are imported, they build covert cameras and listening devices at their facility in Maynooth. This involves building a camera into an existing table lamp, computer speakers, or clock.

“I had a lady ring me an hour ago, looking for something for her au pair. I suggested the digital cube clock,” he says. A functional radio-alarm clock, it doubles as a high-resolution camera and recording device. It can be set up for continuous recording, or motion detectors can be installed to trigger recording when someone comes into the room.

“We would often have people ringing up about au-pair issues, or they have a new childminder. These are the kinds of devices we recommend to them.”

THE STOCK IN TRADE

CLOCKS: Is someone stealing from your desk? Try this spy-camera desk-top clock (pictured left) for €119.99. Looks, feels, and acts like a clock, but a virtually undetectable pinhole camera is hidden in the dot above the 12. It records 640x480 videos directly to a micro SD card, at 30 frames per second. The clock also features motion detection, so you don’t have to sit through endless hours of nothing happening.


DOUBLE ADAPTOR: Described as the ultimate in long-term, hidden recording devices, the double adaptor looks innocuous. Hidden behind the innocent white casing, however, is a tiny recording device collecting voice-activated sound files via a pinhole microphone. But, at €350 a pop, this surveillance isn’t cheap.


WALL MOUNTED SOCKET: Again, innocuousness is the key to this covert listening device’s success. Replace your existing, double-wall socket with this, and, while it will still function as a socket, hidden among its innards is a tiny listening device, complete with GSM card.

Dial from anywhere in the world and you can listen to conversations in the room where it’s installed.
You’ll have to take an electrician into your confidence to fit it. Yours for €325.


KEY FOB: This is a covert spy camera disguised as a car key, plus alarm remote. Another virtually undetectable pinhole-lens that enables 30 frames per minute of recording, complete with a 4GB micro-SD.

This one comes in a variety of marques and styles. Just take care you don’t arrive in a Ford with a BMW fob.

Prices start from €69.99


BUG DETECTOR: If all this talk of listening devices has made you paranoid, you could also pick up a bug detector, and make sure no one’s listening to you listening to them.

On the SpyIreland site, bug-detector prices start from €55, and range up to €399.99. If you’re an au-pair worried about hidden cameras, you can pick up a hidden camera detector for €249.99


AM I BEING WATCHED?

Can anyone carry out surveillance?

Yes. The Irish Council for Civil Liberties (ICCL) says anyone can photograph you or video you in public. If someone is following you with a camera, contact the Gardaí. People are not allowed to photograph you in private places, unless it’s ‘in the public interest’. The authorities (ie, the Gardaí, army and Revenue) need permission from a judge to carry out surveillance. In urgent situations, they can monitor you for 72 hours before getting permission.

Who can access to my email?

The authorities can monitor your emails and internet. They don’t need the sign-off of a judge or the Minister for Justice. They can observe date, time and recipient of an email, but can’t read the content.

What about mail? Phone calls?

Listening to phone calls requires a warrant from the Minister for Justice. The Gardaí may intercept your mail if they ‘need them to help with the investigation of a serious offence’. A warrant from the minister is required. They can keep information about your telephones calls for two years, and about your email and internet for one year.

But they can’t put a tracking device on my car, right?

Wrong. The authorities can track you or your vehicle, without you knowing, for up to four months. They don’t need permission from a judge.

What should I do if I think I’m under surveillance?

Apply to the ‘complaints referee’, who can investigate whether a lawful request was made to monitor your phone, email or internet. If the referee finds that your records were accessed, he or she will write and tell you. The referee will send a report to the Taoiseach.

Do the Gardaí exercise this power often?

We don’t know. The Department of Justice refuses to disclose the number of times the minister has given permission for phones to be tapped. In 2010, 15,000 requests for electronic information were made by the authorities.

Is there a risk this information may be misused?

Two years ago, a garda accessed her ex-boyfriend’s phone records. She kept her job and was not prosecuted. Journalists frequently report heavy-handed police surveillance.

How do our laws compare internationally?

“Poorly,” says digital rights activist and UCD law lecturer, TJ McIntyre. “Especially in relation to actual interception, where the law has not been updated since 1993. It is incredible that such an invasive power is given to the Minister for Justice and not a judge, particularly where ministerial powers have been abused in the past.”

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