The tickle of curiosity. The gasp of discovery. Fingers running across a keyboard

Sunday, August 17, 2014

I've Got My Eye On You: Surveillance Information for Writers w/ Jay Korza


A 'nest' of surveillance cameras at the Gillet...
 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Today on ThrillWriting we are answering a reader's questions about surveillance. To do this, I have invited our friend Jay Korza back to share his knowledge.



Fiona - 
Hi Jay, can you give our readers a little bit of your background? Why do you know how to keep track of people?

Jay - 
I've been in law enforcement for fourteen years now. I have worked on SWAT for eight. SWAT doesn't deploy the stuff we're talking about, but we work with the guys who do when we serve their warrants based off the surveillance.

I've also worked as a detective and in a special operations unit doing stuff with Border Patrol, Customs, 
ICE, ATF and other federal acronyms. So 
I've had exposure to what we're talking about.

Fiona - 
From an law enforcement point of view, what's allowed without a warrant and how does access increase with a warrant in hand? I'm trying to set the legal v. illegal perimeters.

Jay -
First, we need to clarify electronic surveillance can include GPS, wire taps, cameras, microphones, and other data collection methods. 

Let's start with the GPS - 
Garmin eTrex Yellow GPS acquiring satellite signal
 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Basically, law enforcement uses off-the-shelf products and nothing really fancy. I asked my buddy if there was really high tech stuff out there that we don't use because of cost, and he said no. Even your Fed agencies use the same basic stuff we do.

There are two basic monitors. One that is hardwired into the car's electrical system and one that isn't and has its own battery. Up until last year, you needed a warrant for the hardwired monitor but not the stand alone unit. Now the Supreme Court says you need a warrant for both types. The warrant must specify a length of time you will be recording data. At the end of that time, you must retrieve or attempt to retrieve the tracker.

Many of the GPS trackers are magnetic so you just roll under the suspect's car and slap it on to the frame.

The hardwired kind has more options. It can send a signal to say the vehicle was turned on or off. Both types have options that allow them to automatically turn on or off at certain times or not turn on until the vehicle is in motion. This is important because you can get a cell phone signal detector from radio shack and run it around your car to see if it's being tracked. But if the tracker won't turn on until there is movement, then you would have to do this while moving and that's not feasible.
 
Fiona -
Oh! Very interesting.

Jay - 
Wire taps need warrants, always.

Fiona - 
When you say wire tap - that is a phone line only?

What about sniffing the airwaves for wifi signal and cell phones?

Jay
In some states, to record a conversation, only one party in the conversation needs to be aware of the recording. In other states, both parties need to be aware. This generally only applies to non-law enforcement related stuff. For example if you want to record your neighbor being a jerk to you.

But for wire-tapping, listening in on hardline or cell phone conversations for law enforcement purposes, this requires a warrant.

Fiona - 

Found on my Facebook feed
That's audio - but video without the sound is legal, yes?

Jay - 
Photographing and listening devices can be placed anywhere in public without a warrant. Some states MAY vary with their own more restrictive laws so a writer would need to check their story's state for specific.

So I, as a cop, want to watch someone's property for drug traffic. I can put a camera up in a neighborhood on a telephone pole and point that camera towards their yard and not need a warrant to do that.

Warrants boil down to this basic concept: If you want to watch, listen, or search for anything, and what you want to watch, listen, or search for is in an area that ANYONE could access it, you don't need a warrant. If the person or item or whatever is in any location that a person believes is private and/or has an expectation of privacy in that area, you need a warrant.

There are obviously caveats and details that we can go into more specifics with, but that is the general idea.

Your backyard, isn't private. Your neighbor can look into it. Someone can stand next to it and listen in on it. So putting up a camera or listening device to do the same thing is okay without a warrant.

If you choose to conduct your criminal activity in an area where your average mailman, pool guy, weed guy, neighbor - has access to, then we don't need a warrant to watch those areas



Found in my Facebook feed.

Fiona - 
What if my character obtained the information illegally and sent it anonymously to the police - could they use that?

Jay - 
Depends.

Let's say a burglar, acting on his own volition, breaks into someone's house and steals a laptop. He leaves and finds child porn on the laptop. He turns it into the police. We can look at what he has already looked at and use that to get a warrant to search further.

That actually happened not too long ago.

Fiona - 
WOW that's an upstanding burglar with a code of ethics! 


Say our character "knows" someone is doing something wrong - maybe a wife who thinks her husband is having an affair. What are some techniques your average everyday run of the mill scorned woman might use to catch hubby with his hand in the cookie jar?

Jay - 
Facebook!

Fiona - 
Ha! I mean in terms of using apparatus.

Jay - 
There are programs you
HTC Aria android 2.2 smart phone review www.li...
 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
can install on smart phones that will track the phone without the owners knowledge. I don't know any specific names, but they are out there. I'm sure some work better than others.

You can easily get a GPS tracking device that attaches to the car. There are some that send wireless updates and others that you have to download the information later, and then you can see where it was but not as it is happening.

There are now a few products out that plug into the computer port on your car, the one they use to check error codes and stuff, and those can be made to do a lot of different things including tracking.

Fiona - 
Can she walk into court with that information? "He said he went to Maryland for business, he was actually three blocks over sleeping at my best friends house!"

Jay - 
You could call your cell service provider as the account holder and ask them to set up your husband's phone as a child account with tracking (if they provide this option) and then track his phone through the cell service.


For court use: It depends on the laws of the state. In general, yes.
There could be civil laws in some states that preclude that information.


Three blocks?! Stupid guy!

Fiona - 
That he's doing her best friend makes him the worst kind of stupid guy. But hey, it's not my plot line.

Okay what about the computer? She wants to see what hubby is saying to whom - how could she get that information on a PC? What about if it were a laptop and adding any plug ins would be more visible?

Jay - 
PC: There are programs that log keystrokes or ones that take video of the screen so you can watch the video later. There are plenty of options out there for that sort of thing. The main thing is the wife would need access to the computer as an admin in order to install the programs. So if the hubby uses a pass code, and she doesn't know it, she's locked out and can't do that. She'd need to set up a nanny cam to view the screen. If you're using Windows 8.1 you can set up accounts to monitored for their web and program history. It won't give you details like what was said in a chat, but you could see the general usage stats. That wouldn't help too much in this situation. It will tell you the site they went to though.

But when my kid logs into her account, it says "This account is being monitored". So that isn't too helpful.

Fiona - 
Well it stops your kid from going somewhere they shouldn't, so that's all good.

Jay - 
There are in-line keystroke loggers that plug into USB gadgets. They aren't obvious on an empty port. So you plug it in then plug the printer into it so it isn't an "extra" odd thing plugged in.

In the end, if you have access to the computer and aren't locked out, there are tons of apps that will watch the computer and report back to you. It's just a matter of finding the one that you like best.

Fiona - 
Go back to the key stroke logger. 

Jay - 
Keystroke loggers are great for showing one side of the conversation.

They could get pass codes and access the email, Facebook private messages etc.

Most people won't see a USB keystroke logger if you plug it into the back of their computer. Who checks the back of their PC??

But the crux is getting it there and getting it back. Not to mention you don't get real-time data, you have to wait until you retrieve it to get what you need. Unless you find one that sends out info via the computer's Internet connection.

Fiona - 

Exactly. But you would see it on a laptop. So is there something that captures keystrokes that have already happened? More importantly - would the police use something like that?

Jay - 
You can install software, but the police would need access to the computer AND a warrant.

We could take a phone or computer, get a warrant to install the software, then return the item under false pretenses. "Sorry we took this, we didn't mean to. Here you go. Have a nice day."

Fiona - 

That person would be an idiot to say - oh, okay officer - then I'll just go ahead and use this for my drug deals.

They are nuts. Sell the darned thing and buy a new one. Don't they read crime novels?

Jay - 
No they don't!!!

Fiona - 
Tsk tsk - not very competent criminals - hardly gives the police a challenge at that point.

Jay - 
I actually have plans to write a satirical book when I retire called "How to be a Criminal." Chapter one, don't steal this f*cking book! You aren't ready yet.

Fiona - 
Hahaha! LOVE that!

So someone with some computer savvy could take another person's laptop surreptitiously and install hardware, slip it back in place, and see live anything happening on the laptop?

Jay - 
Yes.

Fiona - 
What about if the police want to follow someone's movements within a building - a GPS would not be helpful for that - do you put trackers in people's shoes? Do you put cameras on their buttons so you can see where they've gone and what they've done?

Jay - 
GPS would be helpful in a building. We can pinpoint altitude (floor level in the building) and within a meter or two of their location. So we could track someone in a building just fine with GPS. However, unless we're talking CIA level investigation, there isn't a reason to in regular law enforcement to get that level of tracking of done.

But that's not true if you din't have access to the GPS and were, for example, following the pings from a cell tower to get generalized location.

Tower pinging is much less accurate. And it requires a subpoena or a warrant. We can ask for emergency pings without either, such as a kidnapping, suicidal subject, or other exigent circumstances.


Most tower pings are now actually GPS locate, it's just still called pinging the phone. The company knows your GPS location unless you have a really dumb phone with no extras on it. Then they actually use tower triangulation.

Fiona - 
What is a tracking issue that has bugged you (giggle) in a book or movie?


Jay - 
Movie and book issues: Tracking someone and looking at their tracking screen and somehow, their screen has an exact map of wherever the person happens to be. They ducked into an office building? No problem, my screen automatically downloaded the wire-frame blueprints of that building, and now I can see them walking up the stairs and into room 819. Nope.

Fiona - 
Boo! That sounds so awesome!

Jay -
One thing they do get right is the lag time. If you have someone tracking a person for you and then relaying the information to you, you are always behind the curve. You may miss the street they took and have to take the next one to catch up.

Fiona - 
How long is that seconds? Minutes?

Jay - 
Could be either depending on the equipment being used. It's worse when the information is going to a third party, say OnStar, then OnStar is relaying it to a dispatcher who then relays it to you. I had that once for a stolen vehicle that we were tracking. My dispatcher said, "Ok, they're stopped at a street just up the road from you and it dead ends." Nope! They were heading straight for me down that road.

Fiona - 
YIPES!

Can you tell our readers about your books?





Jay - 
Plot for Extinction: An ancient race created a species of warriors to conquer other planets/systems for them. A millennium after the conquering, the current Emperor wanted to end the tyranny, but even he couldn't do it. He would be overthrown. So he devised a plan to lead an expansion colony himself to an unexplored part of the galaxy, and then cut himself off from the Empire, letting it wither without him. Then, he would come back and rebuild things the right way. His plan didn't work.

A thousand years later, humans are exploring the galaxy and come across one of the Emperor's first colony sites in our region of space. The scientists accidentally set off a distress signal to the old empire and the warriors find out that the old Emperor had lied to them, and now they are coming to claim our portion of space. Two special forces teams will embark on separate missions to stop the threat.

Amazon Link $2.99


Fiona - 
Very fun! I have a lot of readers here on ThrillWriting who love to read and write sci-fi. You also wrote a zombie theme?

Jay -
My second book is called "This Is Not What I Wished For..." It takes place where the zombie genre is unheard of. A boy on his fourteenth birthday has his family wiped out by what he believes to be demons. He sees his neighbors and family eaten and killed in front of him and then turn into these demons. He flees and ultimately joins with other survivors and leads them to the epicenter of the outbreak, a hospital that is really a covert government lab that accidentally allowed this foreign contagion to escape their labs.

Fiona - 
A huge thank you to Jay Korza for all of his excellent insider information.

And thanks to you for stopping by. Please post any comments or questions below (monitored for SPAM so it will take a bit until you see your post). Also, if you find my blog to be helpful, please share it around. There are some handy buttons below. Happy plotting.

Cheers,

Fiona
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