Thursday, May 23, 2024 May 23, 2024
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PARTY LINE

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URBAN LIFE To the lawyer on the Dallas North Tollway boasting over your cellular phone about how you fooled that judge: I heard it all.

To the Piano woman on your way to the middle school, confiding to a friend that you had spent a recent night with your husband’s co-worker: Your secret’s safe with me.

To the aggressively conservative talk show host, whose voice was the only one I recognized in spite of the fact that I avoid your show like poison: You were considerate to stop for groceries on your way home.

Most people appear not to know or care that their cellular and portable phone conversations go out via radio signals and are, therefore, subject to eavesdropping. My radio scanner randomly plucked these voices from the airwaves-and the eavesdropping was all legal.

Most of the conversations were pretty boring. Some were hot. Or sad, like the woman talking about her cancer. There were a lot of dirty jokes, few of them funny. I felt dirty myself, but I kept listening to the callers until, finally, I took the damn thing back to the store.

There oughta be a law? There is one, sort of. The Electronic Communications Privacy Act of 1986 extends to cellular phone users (but not to cordless phone users) the same protec -tions against government wiretaps that safeguard our privacy on ordinary phone lines. But as a practical matter, one visit to Radio Shack for a $300 gadget allows any private citizen to tune in to the most reality-based show of them all. According to MARCROTENBERG, director of the Washington office of Computer Professionals For Social Responsibility, a privacy-oriented lobbying group, both the need and the technology exist for electronic encryption (encoding) of cellular and portable conversations.

“Our conversations deserve the same protection as a sealed envelope in the U.S. mail,” Rotenberg says. The group is seeking legislation to that effect.

Meanwhile, the whole world is listening.

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