We live in an era where anyone has access to listening equipment and spy devices, such as spy cameras. Technology has made them available to the public at affordable prices. This makes it easy for anyone who wants to spy on you to find the means to invade your privacy with recording devices or hidden cameras. Even a well-placed mobile phone could do the trick. However, this doesn’t necessarily need to frighten you. First of all, not many people resort to this tactic due to ethical reasons, and, second, the law regulates the use of listening and tracking devices on someone’s property, and many states outlaw their use.
Is it legal to use a listening device?
If you want to use a listening device or hire a private investigator to record someone’s private conversations, make sure the law is on your side. Talk to a lawyer or discuss your strategy with a private investigator. They can advise you on the best tactics to use for your case.
The state of Illinois has made it clear that you are not allowed to record any private conversation without the other party’s knowledge and consent. Since Illinois is an “all-party-consent” state, installing eavesdropping equipment is illegal and considered a class 4 felony.
However, there are exceptions to the rule. If you are open about recording someone, for example, with smartphones in public, and you are not doing it secretly, or if you believe that a crime is about to be committed or has already been committed against you or someone in your household, the law allows the use of eavesdropping devices.
Of course, these exceptions open the door to abuse. Considering the extent of legal exceptions in some states, it is best to be cautious and take adequate measures if you have reason to believe someone has planted a listening device in your car.
What is a listening device?
Listening devices are similar to GPS tracking devices. A GPS tracking device pinpoints your location in real-time based on cellular networks and transmits data the same way cell phones do. However, a listening device can also listen to conversations carried inside the car. The sizes of listening devices vary. It can be as big as a matchbox and as small as the head of a pin. Even smaller if we are talking about eavesdropping devices used by the police, government officials, or private investigators.
A listening device features a miniature radio transmitter and a microphone and usually works on a battery. When installed for the long term, they will need to be attached to a power source. Due to their small size, bugs can easily be planted anywhere on your car and can go unnoticed if you are not looking for them or miss the signs that betray their presence.
The most frequent sign that indicates that your car has been bugged is the presence of unusual buzzing sounds. However, you should also pay attention to volume changes on your cell phone, strange beeps, or high-pitched sounds.
Why would anyone plant a listening device in your car?
Many of us have no reason to worry about hidden devices. However, there can be times when we find ourselves in particular circumstances where interested parties may be motivated to use such electronic devices to listen to our conversations. Most of the time, listening devices are planted by individuals who want to keep tabs on you. If your partner suspects you’re cheating on them or you have a controlling partner, you shouldn’t be surprised if you were to find an eavesdropping device in your car.
Then there are circumstances when the person recording your conversation has something to gain from this. It can be a company that wants to recover a debt, a rival business that wants to get its hands on confidential information, or an insurance company that wants to make sure your claim is genuine and legitimate.
If you are going through a difficult divorce or planning to get sole custody of your children, your partner might install a listening device to get access to evidence they can use against you in a courtroom.
Of course, government agencies can resort to such tactics if you have accessed certain websites or your family members or friends are suspected of crimes against the state. Listening devices can also be used to extract sensitive information from wealthy people and celebrities meant to be used as a bargaining chip under the threat of exposing it to the media.
How do you detect a listening device in your car?
The first thing you can do is visually inspect your car. Take a flashlight and begin your investigation. Make sure you bring a witness to your inspection to avoid the accusation that you planted the device in the car. Start with the exterior of the vehicle. Since the devices are usually attached using magnets, focus on open metal areas.
- Check the wheel wells – It may help to feel around for a magnetic device if you can’t see well.
- Look at the undercarriage – use a mirror to check underneath your car
- Check behind the bumpers – check the empty spaces
- Look under the hood – focus on the firewall, strut towers, the radiator, and the battery
- If you found nothing on the exterior, move to the interior of the car:
- Check underneath the driver’s seat – some listening devices need to be connected to the data port underneath the driver’s side of the dashboard
- Inspect the trunk – focus mainly on the spare tire compartment
- Look under and at the edge of the seats – search for weird protuberances without wires
- Check the underside of the dashboard – see if you find any magnetic device or modules with wiring
If the visual inspection of your car brought no results, but you continue to have your suspicions, consider investing in bug detectors. A listening device detector is a handheld device with a broad radio frequency range that allows for the localization of electromagnetic signals. Most common sweeping devices reach a frequency of 8 MHz to 10 GHz. These products are easy to find and affordable.
A bug detector functions to detect radio signals and magnetic fields, and signals from wireless devices. As soon as the detector finds the listening device or hidden camera, it triggers an alarm. You can also choose to buy an electronic Radiofrequency detector that will detect any unusual wireless or cellular activity in your vehicle. If the bug scanner has a wireless transmission, it will turn on lights, vibrate or make a sound.
If you can’t seem to find the bug, but you are sure you’re being recorded, you can always hire a private investigator to take the appropriate technical surveillance counter-measures and use a listening or hidden camera detector in your car. If you find the bug and this is powered by batteries and attached using a magnet or tape, you can simply pull it out. If it is wired into your car, it’s best to seek the assistance of a car mechanic.
This post was updated on February 16, 2022, to reflect changes in law and technology. It was originally published on March 18, 2021.