Playing Telephone

In a society of voyeurs, eavesdropping is an art

The potential legal wrinkles aren't much of a deterrent. The scanners themselves can't be bought in retail stores, but they are easy to obtain with a little resourcefulness. Irving says that it took him less than two minutes to find one on Ebay. (You can find almost anything on Ebay in three.) The standard Radio Shack model only goes up to 800 MHz and covers wavelengths on which it is legal to listen to fire and police departments and sports transmissions. According to Hargrove, older models could be modified to enable cellular interception, but the most recent models cannot.

But even if you find a scanner that can listen in on cell phones, that's only part of the problem: the feds are closing in. CTIA's Ayers points to the Wireless Privacy Protection Act currently before Congress, which attempts to make scanner modification illegal, and he promises, "It will sail through." The catch is how the feds will find passive listeners, since they don't leave a trace. Scanner and The Spacewürm, on the other hand, are easy targets. As Ayers says, "Scanner will not be hard to find if he's [selling] tickets."

Scanner mans the (un)wires at Knitting Factory.
Hiroyuki Ito
Scanner mans the (un)wires at Knitting Factory.

Signal and Noise

  • My Very First Catwalk: Should people really be clapping at this? For Fashion Week, high-speed connectivity upstart RED invited the press down to the biospheres at Bryant Park to unveil its new service using the unique "beautiful young people in red clothing" motif. While video on a giant screen hammered home the company's slinky data rates (640K download, 120K upload, for $79 a month), a Sherpa, an ice climber, and an Asian waif carrying a screenplay paraded around the runway, looking suitably steely about their bandwidth issues. No computers were in sight. At least the rockin' background noise was a step up from the atmosphere vacuum at trade shows. But what strange groupthink was going on that made the audience slaver over this? After the heaps of gray shells at PC Expo and the like, I guess it's intoxicating just to see skin.


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