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Spy Gear

Modern surveillance tools use the newest technology to catch crooks on the sly.

October 01, 2004  |  by Bob Davis

A New Band

Help is on the way. The Federal Communication Commission (FCC) has recently allocated the 4940-4990 MHz band (4.9 GHz band) for fixed and mobile wireless services and has designated the band for use in support of public safety.

This allocation provides public safety users with an additional spectrum to support new broadband applications such as high-speed digital technologies and wireless local area networks for incident scene management. The spectrum also can support dispatch operations and vehicular or personal communications.

Concealed Devices

In the mid-1970s, charge-coupled devices (CCDs) or solid-state video cameras were developed at Bell Labs. Because of miniaturization, these devices are becoming more efficient and useful for a variety of tasks.

Any number of small digital video cameras can now be used to catch crooks in the act and transmit the video via a wireless connection.

The next generation of Complementary Metal Oxide Semiconductors (CMOS) will be less expensive and ultimately do more. Soon police surveillance will be just like a James Bond movie. Video cameras have become so small that they can be easily concealed in ball caps, tie clips, and fountain pens. It won't be too long until the latest trend of still cameras in cell phones becomes passé.

Unfortunately, there generally is a trade off. To achieve a smaller size you need to give up either power or flexibility, especially in the area of lens technology...But now that's changing.

Vision Technology, based in Rogers, Ark., has developed digital cameras that are equipped with specially designed, compact, indefinite focus lenses. The indefinite focus lens is designed to achieve the greatest depth of field possible, with no edge distortion. The lenses are sized to efficiently cover their CCD imagers.

Vision Technology's patented indefinite focus lens provides simultaneous focus from one-quarter inch to infinity. This gives you superior depth of field. The indefinite focus lens eliminates the need to focus on specific targets, whether the target is near or far from the user, and it's accomplished with no moving parts or software manipulation.

You can do quite a lot with a small camera and a digital transmitter. These devices make extremely covert surveillance possible.

Audio Surveillance

They say a picture is worth a thousand words, but sometimes you need someone's voice on tape. And most suspects aren't willingly going to let you record their voices. That's where audio surveillance comes in.

One of the more interesting ways of listening to others without their knowledge is to use one of the so-called "ghost phones." It's an ordinary cellular phone with a difference: When the phone appears to be switched off or non-functional, it's acting as a fully operational sensitive audio device. The phone's modified circuitry and software are used to transmit any sounds the phone can pick up, using the lines of a local phone company anywhere in the world.

Who needs "bugs" that only transmit a few hundred feet when you can get one of the nationwide carriers to provide free long distance surveillance? Well, it's not necessarily that simple. You need to be careful here. There are a number of state, federal, and more than likely local violations associated with the exploitation of telecommunications companies.

Speaking of bugs, there are a ton out there, but your major concerns once again will be power consumption and range of transmission. Both are a component of size, but useful range will be affected by environmental factors such as terrain and structure. The rule in most cases: line of sight. Whether you're operating a bug on UHF, VHF, or 2.4 GHz you're always going to get the best signal using a directional antenna to send and receive the signal.

Letter of the Law

Now before you go out and drop a dumptruck full of cash on some new whiz-bang technology that promises to do everything for you but handcuff the suspect, don't forget to look into the laws that control the uses of such technologies.

Remember, terrorists or not, we still live in a free society. Just because the Patriot Act has loosened the rules for the Federal Government, your local jurisdiction still needs to be aware of, and obey, local or state regulations when conducting surveillance. Finding the balancing point between legal electronic surveillance and an individual's right to privacy will be something our nation's courts will tackle in the future. Be smart, exploit the technology for all it's worth, but use integrity in your professional conduct.

Bob Davis is a 27-year veteran of the San Diego Police Department who has been responsible for the technical security of events such as the 1996 Republican National Convention, two Super Bowls, the 2001 BioTech convention, and other incidents or events within the city of San Diego. He currently runs SDPD's computer lab.

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