A district court judge has ruled that it's legal to turn cell phones them into "roving bugs" whose microphones can be activated remotely even when they're powered down.
The technique is called a "roving bug," and was approved by top U.S. Department of Justice officials for use against members of a New York organized crime family who were wary of conventional surveillance techniques such as tailing a suspect or wiretapping him...
The U.S. Commerce Department's security office warns that "a cellular telephone can be turned into a microphone and transmitter for the purpose of listening to conversations in the vicinity of the phone." An article in the Financial Times last year said mobile providers can "remotely install a piece of software on to any handset, without the owner's knowledge, which will activate the microphone even when its owner is not making a call."
Nextel and Samsung handsets and the Motorola Razr are especially vulnerable to software downloads that activate their microphones, said James Atkinson, a counter-surveillance consultant who has worked closely with government agencies. "They can be remotely accessed and made to transmit room audio all the time," he said. "You can do that without having physical access to the phone."
Combine this with the administration's claim that warrantless wiretapping is legitimate, and suddenly every cell phone in America that doesn't have its battery removed could be acting as a surveillance feed.
Even if you're not concerned about the possibility of the FBI or NSA spying on you, though, this technology has significant implications. It's only a matter of time before someone (either at a cellular service provider or elsewhere) decides to use this technology for corporate espionage, assuming it hasn't happened already.