Illegal ‘Scanners’ Being Used to Tap Phone Conversations

Essam Al-Ghalib, Arab News
Publication Date: 
Sun, 2005-05-01 03:00

JEDDAH, 1 May 2005 — Special Forces soldiers in recent raids on terrorist hideouts seized several scanning receivers. Better known as scanners, these electronic devices scan through a range of radio frequencies allowing the user to listen in on police transmissions and telephone conversations over a range of frequencies. Illegal in Saudi Arabia, possession of these devices is a serious offense.

Legal in the United States and in most European countries, these devices are sold to the general public through high street amateur radio outlets. With hundreds of possible legitimate uses, manufacturers such as Realistic and Uniden, continue to produce them but are limited in the frequencies that their products are allowed to scan.

The frequency range of models manufactured currently does not allow the scanning of mobile phone frequencies, which in America are now digital. In Saudi Arabia, however, analog mobile technology exists in some areas and those who have scanners can listen in on telephone conversations.

Glenn Cohen, an expert in radio technology and owner of Scanners Unlimited in San Carlos, California told Arab News over the telephone: “If the cellular provider is using an analog system, and the caller is using an analog phone, then with the older scanners, you can listen in on people’s conversations.”

According to a source formerly with Saudi Telecom, analog wireless technology is still being used in districts where standard telephone cabling does not exist.

Most homes in Al-Samer district on the outskirts of Jeddah are fitted with a wireless analog transmitter and receiver.

“Digital technology is expensive. We cannot charge home telephone subscribers, digital mobile rates. Because only a small percentage of homes are not connected to our wired network, analog technology is a cheaper and faster solution. The US was using analog technology for their cellular networks for many years and so were we,” the source told Arab News.

In Saudi Arabia, scanners have been available on the black market though extremely hard to find. They range in price from SR1,500 to SR5,000.

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