The Invasion of Privacy

If information is power, arguesVANCE PACKARD,Americans today should be uneasy about the amount of detail now being ferreted out about them by agencies both public and private. This article and its sequel.The Right to Privacy,” which will appear in the MarchATLANTIC, have been drawn from Mr. Packard’s new book,THE NAKED SOCIETY,soon to be published by the David McKay Company.

Vance Packard

BY TELESCOPING time a bit let us look in on a reasonably successful family in a typical city of the Land of Liberty, 1964. Mom is at the department store trying on a new dress. A closed-circuit TV camera hidden behind a mesh screen is recording her moves to make certain she does not pocket any of the store’s merchandise.

Dad is at a conference table at the office talking to a group of colleagues about the operations of his department. The man sitting next to him is an undercover agent hired from a nationwide detective agency by the president of the company to keep tabs on the performance of key subordinates. Elsewhere, an investigator is on the telephone chatting with Dad’s banker about the size of Dad’s account and any outstanding loans. It seems that Dad had recently applied for an insurance policy on his personal property.

Son John, just out of college, is seated in a chair with a pneumatic tube strapped across his chest and an electrode taped to his palm. John has applied for a job as a sales representative for an electronics concern. He is now undergoing the usual lie detector test to probe his honesty, his possibly dangerous habits, and his manliness. Meanwhile, an investigator is talking to one of John’s old professors back at college concerning any political opinions John may have expressed during class discussions.

Daughter Mary, sweet girl, is still only a sophomore in the public high school. She is in the classroom struggling with a 250-item questionnaire. It asks her to reveal whether her parents seem to quarrel a lot and whether they have ever talked to her about sex and whether she is worried about menstrual disorders. Her responses help the school to understand her better.

All these things obviously would not happen on the same day to one family, but all of them happen every day to a great many individuals. All have become common enough occurrences to raise somber questions about the drift of modern society. Are there forces now loose in our world that threaten to annihilate everybody’s privacy? And if such forces are indeed loose, are they establishing the preconditions of totalitarianism that could endanger our personal freedom?

The methods for observing, examining, and exchanging information about people are individually cloaked in reasonableness. And some perhaps have comic overtones. But when we view them collectively, we must consider the possibility that they represent an insidious impingement upon our traditional rights as free citizens to live our own lives. Many of these new forces are producing pressures that intrude upon most of us where we live, work, shop, go to school, or seek solitude. Millions of Americans are living in an atmosphere in which peering electronic eyes, undercover agents, lie detectors, hidden tape recorders, and outrageously intrusive questionnaires are becoming commonplace. Privacy is becoming harder and harder to protect; surveillance is becoming more and more pervasive. Justice William O. Douglas of the United States Supreme Court has commented, “The forces allied against the individual have never been greater.”

The surveillance of citizens in the United States, and in much of Western Europe, has been growing year by year. One indication of the extent of it in the United States is seen in an analysis of the U.S. security system made a few years ago. Even then, more than 13,500,000 Americans — or approximately one fifth of all jobholders — were being scrutinized under some sort of security or loyalty program. In 1962 the Department of Defense alone conducted security investigations on 826,000 individuals.

Surveillance of individuals for security, loyalty, or general behavior is most rampant in southern California. In this area the majority of families have one or more members under some form of watch, either as defense workers or public employees or motion-picture studio employees or recipients of welfare benefits. For most of these people at least one investigator is bound to be calling on nextdoor neighbors to inquire about their backgrounds or living habits.

The United States government employs more than 25,000 professional investigators, not including counterintelligence and espionage operatives. Federal investigators, however, represent only a small fraction of the total number of people in the nation who earn their living investigating other people. There are hundreds of thousands of private, corporate, municipal, county, and state investigators.

Much of the surveillance of individuals by trained investigators has been made easier by the proliferation of record-keeping in our increasingly bureaucratic society. I found it dismaying to learn how much information about one’s private life is readily available to any skilled investigator who knows where to check accessible records and make a few routine inquiries for a curious client for a total fee of less than fifty dollars.

When I asked an investigator about my own credit rating he said, “Give me a couple of hours.” Within that period he called me back and gave me data from a credit report on me. It contained a fairly thorough summary of my life, employers, agents, abodes, and offspring for the past two decades, and the precise assessed value of my home in Connecticut. He chuckled and added, “They say that though you pay your bills, you occasionally take your time about it.”

Most American adults with jobs, cars, houses, charge accounts, insurance, and military or government records can assume that they are the subject of at least one specific dossier, more probably of several. Most of these dossiers contain facts that are relatively impersonal; but a great many contain thick reports with intimate details. Many also contain erroneous or adverse information that may be handicapping the person in his career without his being aware of the source of the handicap.

The U.S. Civil Service Commission, which has checked on nearly everyone who has applied for federal employment since 1939, reportedly has nearly 250,000 dossiers that contain adverse information.

Its central index, of approximately 7,500,000 dossiers, is just one of the many files on individuals that have grown to massive proportions in recent years. The Defense Department maintains a central index of members of the armed forces, civilian employees, and a great many people, including scientists, who work on defense contracts. The Federal Bureau of Investigation, of course, has its extensive central file. The House Un-American Activities Committee reportedly has accumulated a card file of more than a million names. The Association of Casualty and Surety Companies maintains a vast nationwide clearinghouse of information regarding claimants. Very recently its file contained 18,200,000 entries of bodily injury or workmen’s compensation claimants. The Bureau investigates or scrutinizes about one fourth of all claims, which means it conducts about 500,000 investigations a year. And then, of course, there are the credit bureaus in every part of the United States as well as in Canada, England, and Australia that are affiliated with the Associated Credit Bureaus of America. Through rapid exchange arrangements any bureau can draw upon files kept on more than one hundred million individuals.

A FURTHER indication of the increase in surveillance since the beginning of World War II is the tremendous amount of electronic eavesdropping occurring through the use of hidden microphones, remote taps on telephone lines, and electronic monitoring by closed-circuit TV. An electronics expert who has worked closely with many U.S. intelligence officials told me: “In all major cities the government maintains hotel rooms with eavesdropping equipment already installed through a nearby wall. When a person under surveillance goes to such a hotel, the proper authorities arrange for him to be put in the proper room.” The head of a firm specializing in “anti-intrusion” services said: “We are on a monthly retainer with a number of companies to give their premises an electronic sweeping each week for hidden bugs and taps.”

In the novel that George Orwell wrote about the year 1984 he envisioned that the advances of electronics had enabled his fictional totalitarian leader to install a telescreen in each living space of the realm. In this way the tyrant could maintain virtually total visual and audio surveillance when he chose. As Orwell put it: “You had to live — did live, from habit that became instinct — in the assumption that every sound you made was overheard and, except in darkness, every movement scrutinized.”

If Mr. Orwell were writing his book today rather than in the 1940s, his details would surely be more horrifying. Today there are cameras that can indeed see in the dark. There are banks of giant memory machines that conceivably could recall in a few seconds every pertinent action — including failures, embarrassments, or possibly incriminating acts — from the lifetime of each citizen. And brain research has progressed to the point where it is all too readily believable that a Big Brother could implant an electrode in the brain of each baby at birth and thereafter maintain by remote control a certain degree of influence over the individual’s moods and behavior, at least until his personality had suitably jelled.

Fortunately for the human race, a good many people are becoming apprehensive about the wonders bestowed by electronic research. Fortunately also, most of the devices are a bit expensive to be used against whole populations (though the prices are coming down), so that the present uses are mostly selective. Nevertheless, in the course of a year literally millions of Americans are watched or overheard electronically without being aware of it.

Each year several thousand TV cameras are being sold to industry, and such giants as General Precision, General Electric, and RCA are among the companies selling them. Seattle’s classified phone directory lists fourteen local companies offering to sell or install closed-circuit TV. Some ol the TV cameras used in industry are for such prosaic purposes as watching instrument panels or furnace operations; others are for watching people. In some instances the people involved know about the people-watching, as at the gates of an IBM plant for research in Endicott, New York. In others, it is done secretly.

Mr. Max Kanter — president of ITV in New York, which rents or sells closed-circuit installations — explained that if you wish to conceal the equipment, even the lens need not show. He said, “If there is screening material or mesh to conceal the camera, and if it is focused at some point beyond, the lens can look right through the screening material.” (His charge for renting basic equipment for one week is about two hundred dollars.)

The makers of TV cameras for surveillance have not only learned to miniaturize them to a thickness of only about four inches, but they have learned that by shooting into a mirror they can install the cameras vertically in a wall that has a four-inch air space. The fact that the FBI uses closed-circuit TV in some of its surveillance work came out in the trial of a Navy yeoman suspected of spying.

Hidden still cameras are also in wide use for recording the activities of people. A company called Cameras For Industry has been aggressive in selling plants, stores, and banks on Automatic Photo Systems that can now be rented for pennies a day. The cameras operate silently, can take thousands of pictures in a single loading, and, it is explained, they either can be used openly or can be concealed. The camera can be triggered by a photoelectric eye. Or if a clerk is handing you a document he can first insert it in a number-stamping machine; and the act of stamping will trigger a hidden camera beamed at you.

Then there are the tiny cameras used by investigators or others seeking evidence. Some are built into cigarette lighters. As the owner lights his cigarette his thumb action simultaneously triggers the camera.

THE impetus for much of the development of many of these surveillance devices came from the defense and space research and from efforts to keep up with the Russians in this area. Advances in infrared photography resulted largely from research for aerial reconnaissance, as did automatic tripping devices for cameras. Many early developments in closed-circuit TV were for use in surveillance of machines and dials as well as people at missilelaunching complexes. Transistors made possible miniature transmitters for use in satellites, where every ounce counts.

Evidence of remarkable Russian techniques inspired the U.S. government to plunge into research and development contracts in the field of surveillance and counterintrusion. The discovery of a tiny microphone embedded in the great seal of the United States that hangs behind the U.S. ambassador’s desk in our Moscow embassy was more of a shock to our technicians than has ever been admitted. A man intimately familiar with the search for this microphone confided: “It was an advancement of the art by the Russians that we were not then up to. We were not equipped to spot it because they had placed across the street an enormous transmitter beamed to bounce signals off the buried cavity device, and that giant transmitter was operating in a very, very high frequency spectrum we were not equipped to detect.” The British Embassy inspired the Americans to tear the ambassador’s office apart, literally, because our British cousins confided that they had detected at their own embassy a signal they could not identify.

More than one hundred hidden listening devices have in recent years been found in U.S. embassies and residences in Soviet bloc countries. A picturesque example of Soviet advances in miniaturization was discovered accidentally by a U.S. military attaché at a Moscow bar when he picked up a martini not intended for him. The “olive” in it, according to a Time account, contained a transmitter, and the tiny toothpick stuck in it was an antenna.

One step the U.S. government is now taking to protect secret discussions in its embassies in certain countries is to ship portable rooms to the embassies. Such a room is sent as a knockdown package and assembled inside the embassy. It is shielded on all sides to prevent transmission of sound and is so built as to permit visual inspection under, over, and all around the room for any wires.

U.S. companies can make microphones and transmitters just about as small as anyone could conceivably desire. A transmitter is now available which can fit inside a lipstick tube or a ball-point pen, or which appears to be a lump of sugar. Microphones smaller than a twenty-five-cent piece are being made and widely used.

At least thirty U.S. companies are now involved in manufacturing electronic eavesdropping equipment. One of the larger companies making concealed listening devices, Solar Research, Inc., in Oakland Park, Florida, claims that in 1962 its sales increased fourfold within a year. Some companies sell only to law enforcement agencies; others sell only surveillance equipment to law enforcement agencies but sell counterintrusion devices to private concerns; and some seem interested in selling whatever they have to anyone who has the money to pay for the devices. There is no law against manufacturing or selling bugging devices, and pitifully few laws, F.C.C. regulations, or court decisions against their use. I had no difficulty, for example, in obtaining catalogues from several companies. And I saw on display in the window of an electronics shop on Forty-third Street in New York City a device that automatically starts a tape recorder when a telephone conversation starts.

When one West Coast manufacturer of “bugs” was displaying his new models to the convention of the American Society for Industrial Security, he cautioned that sales were “subject to pertinent regulation.” But, he added, “I cannot be responsible for the integrity of the user. I’m not going to ask the buyer what he does with it.” (A leading electronics magazine, incidentally, has advertised for $22.50 a Be A Spy correspondence course which includes instructions in bugging.)

Manufacturers of tiny tape recorders have been conducting large-scale advertising campaigns in large-circulation newspapers and magazines. A full-page ad for the pocket-size Minifon, which can be concealed in a briefcase, not only cited its value in recording routine memos and conferences but pictured its “wristwatch” microphone, its “inconspicuous tie-clip microphone,” and its “unique telephone pickup,” which can be attached to a telephone receiver to record phone conversations.

IN THE course of my research I was given a number of demonstrations by people who were clearly experts in the arts of bugging and de-bugging. Those offering their services to the public as anti-intrusion specialists were perhaps most willing to discuss openly the problems involved. Raymond Farrell, manager of Bondwitt Sound Engineering Company in New York, explained: “If we’re serving the public, we’re anti-intrusion specialists; if we’re serving the law lawfully, we’re intrusion specialists.”

As he and I were chatting in an office, he took out of his briefcase a transmitter the size of a small matchbook. At his suggestion we went down the hall to a room where two girls were chatting and with their permission placed it and its tiny microphone on a table several feet from them. We returned to the office where we had been talking. He closed the door and turned on his receiving box. The conversation of the girls came through loud and clear. He said the girls could be heard at least a block away, and perhaps two blocks, depending on conditions.

The most impressive demonstration was put on for me by Ralph V. Ward of Mosler Research Products, Inc., in Danbury, Connecticut. He is one of the leading authorities in the free world on surveillance devices. His company and its predecessors pioneered in making miniature surveillance devices for federal agencies, including some in the international field. As sales manager he spends a good deal of time in Washington taking orders and soliciting research and development contracts. “We have not run out of wonders,” he said. The Mosler company now also makes much of its equipment available to state and city agencies and to licensed investigative agencies. And it offers to industry a complete “security” kit containing a host of tools for detecting bugging devices for slightly more than three hundred dollars a kit.

The amiable Mr. Ward demonstrated, item by item, the tools that go into one of the pigskin satchels sold to federal and other official agencies. The filled satchels are produced in lots of one hundred and contain both bagging and de-bugging tools. One interesting item was a microphone mounted in rubber a quarter of an inch thick. It can be slipped under a hotel door. Another device was the spike mike, a microphone attached to a spike nearly a foot long. It can be driven into walls or doors, which serve as resonators. In the United States its use is legal only on a court order.

The challenge today is not to make the bugs small but to make them more undetectable, for use in spots where the occupants are security-oriented and likely to make checks. A transmitter, no matter how small, is fairly easy to spot by an anti-intrusion expert with “room-sweeping” equipment. He hears a squeal in his receiver when his electronic “mop” gets close to a hidden transmitter. A buried microphone with a tiny wire leading to a remote tape recorder is vastly more difficult to detect. Thus the transmitter is considered to be most appropriate for quick hit-and-run jobs, whereas the mike wired to a remote recorder is preferred for permanent installations.

Some of the places to tape hidden microphones in a room are at the back of desk drawers (because people usually do not go all the way back even when searching), in the upholstery, or to the underside of a bed. If a long-term bugging with a transmitter is planned, there is an advantage in putting the transmitter in an electric clock or TV set or in a light fixture so that it can draw its power from the building’s electric power source.

Another favored spot for hiding bugging devices is within the frame of a picture on the wall. Mosler sells a nice pastoral picture that has a very thin transmitter pasted inside the paper covering the back of the picture. A visual search would not detect this transmitter even if the picture was taken off the wall. These pictures are particularly favored for installation in hotel or motel rooms where the person under surveillance is going to stay.

The base of a telephone is also a favored spot for making a quick installation of a bug. Mr. Farrell demonstrated to me that such an installation can be made in one minute. There are two ways to install the bug. A two-wire tap using a small transmitter in the base gives you only the telephone conversation. A three-wire tap includes a wire that jumps the hook switch and thus broadcasts all calls and in addition all conversation going on in the room when the phone is not in use.

As counterintrusion skills have advanced, the professionals have sought to place their microphones beyond the probing range of the metal-detection sweepers now widely used. This means placing the mike behind the wall and as far away as possible. Mr. Ward explained: “Normally the best way to bug is through a pinhole that is too small to see in the imperfections of the woodwork or the plaster. Visually, you wouldn’t find the pinhole.” (Researchers are already at work to develop pinhole finders.)

But even with a pinhole the presence of a microphone buried in the wall may produce a slight signal on the metal detector if it is just inside the plaster behind the pinhole opening. Now, Mr. Ward indicated, a tube mike has been developed. This permits you to put the mike several inches back from the pinhole. The tube, which can be a plastic resonator, leads from the pinhole to the mike. This reduces the chances that the microphone will be detected by any metal-detecting device. Dr. Leo L. Beranek of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, an authority on acoustics, has described devices that can be placed on the outside wall of a room under surveillance. Voices inside the room set up mechanical vibrations that may be detected by such a device placed against the outside wall. Most experts hired for counterintrusion work feel insecure unless they can inspect all rooms around, above, and below the room they are guarding.

As FOR the highly directional microphones that reputedly can pick up conversations from great distances, a sizable amount of folklore on the reach of such microphones has developed. Published reports that they can pull in voices from a distance of 1200 feet or through closed windows are apparently without basis. But some do bring in conversations 100 to 150 feet away under moderately noisy conditions, and up to 500 feet if conditions are ideal.

The first of these miracle mikes to receive much attention was the parabolic microphone, placed at the focal point of a reflector. Such giant saucers were first seriously developed during World War II, before radar, and proved to be much more sensitive than the human ear in detecting approaching aircraft. An effective parabolic mike requires a reflector with a diameter of at least three and preferably six feet. This makes it somewhat cumbersome for most sleuthing purposes, but it can be concealed behind bushes or in a truck whose open rear end is covered with black muslin or in the darkened balcony of a conference room.

Another kind of long-range mike is the so-called machine-gun type, consisting of a bundle of tubes of varying lengths, each of which brings the sound to a microphone at the rear. Such an arrangement of tubes tends to eliminate most sounds not almost directly in front. Cumbersomeness is again a problem. The picture of the one I saw in operation indicated that the longest of the pipes was about seven feet. The man using it was behind bushes. Attorney Edward Bennett Williams says that this type of mike proved to be practical in gaining evidence of blackmail involving a motion-picture actor in California. The blackmailer, being suspicious that the man might wear a bug, specified that the actor meet him at a remote place on a beach and wear only bathing trunks. The actor complied, but a machine-gun mike a few hundred feet away in the dark was able to pick up enough of their talk to provide incriminating evidence.

Still a third type of long-range mike is produced by Electro-Voice, which specializes in developing microphones for broadcasters. Recently it developed a single-barrel mike which is about seven feet long. A TV network has used it to pick up the voices of questioners at presidential press conferences, to pick up the sounds of distant bands in parades, and to pick up, from the sidelines, the voices and sounds of body impact of players at football games. The National Football League now has banned it because it was broadcasting too many obscenities. Electro-Voice has had nquiries from, and made sales to, a number of people who presumably were not broadcasters, but it has no knowledge of the number of these mikes actually being used in investigative work. Its big mike costs about a thousand dollars. A simpler nonelectronic way to eavesdrop on distant conversations — if the eavesdropper does not need recorded evidence —is to employ a lip-reader with binoculars.

One of the most prevalent forms of bugging is to conceal a microphone and transmitter on the body. Miniaturization has made this feasible; and unfortunately there is no reason to fear prosecution. Dick Tracy with his “watch” microphone is considered a clumsy amateur by the experts. With a simulated wrist watch there is the hazard that the ware leading up the sleeve from the “wristwatch” may be observed. Also, the wrist is a poor location for a mike because it is often in motion, and a mike on the wrist cannot easily be pointed toward the speaker under surveillance.

A spot favored by many experts for placing the mike on the body is behind the tie, fairly low down so as not to pick up interference from the heartheat. Tape recorders are now small enough so that there is little chance that they will be detected if taped to the body. However, the experts prefer use of concealed transmitters rather than recorders. The transmitter will broadcast to a tape recorder that can be several hundred feet away, and the transmitter is favored because even a fairly powerful transmitter can be made much smaller than a good concealable recorder. Also it can operate without reloading longer than a tape recorder. And il a person is caught with it during a frisk, the information recorded on a distant tape up to that point cannot be destroyed. The transmitter can be carried in a coat pocket with its antenna going up to the armpit and down the sleeve. Or it can be hung around the neck with the neck cord doubling as an antenna.

One of the best places to put either a transmitter or small recorder, according to a man who has submitted to police frisks to test his theory, is just above the coccyx. Another favored way of concealing a transmitter and mike is to pack them inside a king-size-cigarette package designed to feel as soft as a real package of cigarettes.

THERE are a variety of tailing aids that can be attached to an automobile. One simple transmitter which broadcasts a pulsing tone signal is mounted on four magnets and can be attached to any clean metal surface under the car in a matter of seconds. It can be heard for a mile.

The art of wiretapping — which is, at least technically, a more illicit form of eavesdropping — has also seen some improvements in recent years. One method has been to attach a miniature transmitter to the tapped listening post. This not only is more convenient but has the advantage of reducing the chance that the tapper can be traced if a tap is discovered.

Tappers frequently pose as telephone repairmen, and some who engage in tapping on a large scale even buy or build imitations of the green telephone company trucks.

Tools for the more elementary kinds of direct wiretapping cost less than $25.00. And for $4.25 you can purchase a little device that feeds a telephone conversation into a tape recorder. It can be installed in three seconds by pressing its suction attachments against the back of the telephone receiver.

However, when you get into transmitters, automatic recorders, and many of the microphoning tools that we have discussed, the prices soar. A professional eavesdropper is likely to require an expensive bag —or truckload — of tools. An examination of four catalogues issued by producers of surveillance equipment (Mosler, Tracer Electronics, Inc., W. S. J. Electronics, and R. B. Clifton Electronic Surveillance Equipment) gives some idea of an eavesdropper’s overhead. Here are some sample prices:

Transmitters for wireless wiretapping. Prices range from $65 to $200, depending upon whether signal must be broadcast one block or three.

Picture-frame transmitter, $215.

General-purpose transmitter, to be planted inside room, $95 to $137, presumably depending on quality.

Transmitters for concealment on body, $150 to $220.

Device for automatically starting tape recorder when conversation begins on tapped telephone line, and for stopping when conversation stops, $76 to $105.

Since a few states ban even the possession of wiretapping equipment by private parties, the Clifton catalogue states at the end of its price list: “Caution — in many parts of the world there are certain laws which prohibit using some of the items above. It is the sole responsibility of the buyer (and not the seller) to ascertain through legal counsel how these laws may apply to the use of each item purchased.” Tracer Electronics simply notes after some of its items: “Sold for use subject to pertinent regulations.”

A QUITE different kind of electronic surveillance and control has become possible through the development of the giant memory machines. Each month more and more information about individual citizens is being stored away in some gigantic memory machine. The information about individuals is usually being fed into the supercomputers to serve a socially useful or an economically or politically attractive purpose. But will this always be so, especially in the case of memory machines that are building up cumulative files on individual lives?

All the storing of information makes one wonder. Dr. Robert Morison, director of Medical and Natural Science for the Rockefeller Foundation, has commented, “We are coming to recognize that organized knowledge puts an immense amount of power in the hands of people who take the trouble to master it.” It may be significant that increasingly it is those who hold the office of controller in U.S. corporations who are promoted to the presidency. Their control of the computers gives them an edge in information over their competitors.

If information is power, Americans should be uneasy about the amount of information the federal government is starting to file in its memory banks. There are, for example, the gigantic memory machines which the Internal Revenue Service is starting to use to check data from our tax returns against data accumulated about us from other sources, such as employers and banks. The computers also watch for unlikely patterns. Obviously these memory banks are useful tools for fair and efficient tax collecting. But what are the implications for two decades from now, in 1984? If future bureaucrats choose, they can build up so-called “cum,” or cumulative, files on each taxpayer over decades, and thus will have, instantly recallable, a vast amount of personal information about the living habits of every adult in the nation.

One computer maker, Bernard S. Benson, bluntly concedes that concentration of power in the form of accumulated information can be “catastrophically dangerous.” He suggests that individual privacy ultimately may be at the mercy of the man in a position to push the button that makes the machine remember. At an international conference on information processing sponsored by UNESCO in Paris, he reminded his colleagues that it was “high time” they started devoting part of their conferences to discussing how to ensure that any new accomplishments will be beneficial to mankind.

Whatever the benefits, the marvelous new electronic devices with memories or ears or eyes are serving to push against the boundaries of each individual’s privacy. Electronic eyes and ears are being put to a host of ingenious uses for the purpose of people-watching.