In an age of wireless everything, spies have gone from bugging phone wires to pulling data from smartphones, tracking not just your voice but your whereabouts too. Forty years ago, spy cameras were strapped to pigeons; now video cameras are hidden in the bridge of glasses. Beyond getting stealthier, smaller, and more high tech, spy gadgets are nearly everywhere, from ATMs to websites. And thanks to the Patriot Act, which turns 10 this month, some of that espionage is legal and government-sponsored. Up your paranoia and take a look at the ways you’re being watched–by both criminals and law enforcers.
ATMs // It’s not just conspiracy
theorists who shield their hands as they type their PINs into ATMs–it’s smart people too. They’re hiding their digits from onlookers both physical and virtual; the latter are in cameras mounted above keypads and lurk in ATM card readers, stealing data from magnetic strips on cards and later sending the information to thieves’ cell phones.
Unmanned Aerial Vehicles // The CIA’s first tiny unmanned aerial vehicle came in the form of a dragonfly in the 1970s and was known as an insectothopter. The flying surveillance system was controlled with a laser but wasn’t strong enough to stay on course in the wind. Now, the government has moved on to birds with the remote-controlled Nano Hummingbird. Flapping its wings, it can fly up to 11 mph while recording video.
Steganography // Taking advantage of coding and digital images, the Russian spies who were arrested in the U.S. in 2010 embedded correspondence in online photos. The practice, called steganography, hides messages in plain sight.
GPS and Cell Phones // Because of an Apple snafu earlier this year, we know that cell phones can track our every move. But unless spies actively try to access that information, it’s probably not beamed to a 1984-style government–though it can be, making Americans nervous that the FBI will take an interest in their phone records.
Satellites // Despite plans to shut down the Homeland Security satellite-spying program, introduced by the Bush administration, the government launched the world’s largest satellite in 2010 with no word about its purpose. Some suspect it’s carrying eavesdropping technology.