Can the Government Listen in on Your Phone Calls - by Carlos GaminoCarlos Gamino, a criminal defense lawyer in Milwaukee, is always interested in privacy laws. Here’s his take on whether the government can—or should—listen in on your phone calls.

 Your phone calls are your own private business. That is, until the government has a reason to listen in. Wiretapping and accessing call records are accepted practices that have been going on for decades. With court approval, the government and police can request cooperation from phone companies to listen in on your conversations.

In fact, a 2014 report from Vodafone, one of the world’s largest cellular companies, revealed that government snooping into phone networks happens extensively all across the globe. This may come as a surprise, but according to Vodafone, many countries even demand direct access into Vodafone’s networks without providing a warrant or prior notice. The report included all of the 29 countries across Europe, Africa and Asia in which Vodafone operates.

Recently, however, the U.S. and the United Kingdom have been accused of taking things one step farther. They’re accused of hacking Dutch SIM card manufacturer Gemalto’s private data and stealing the encryption keys that secure communications between mobile phones and cell towers. These keys allow snoopers to decode phone conversations and text messages.

With the attack, the hackers—whomever they ultimately prove to be—hit the motherlode. Gemalto operates in 85 countries and fabricates about 2 billion SIM cards each year across 40 manufacturing facilities.

To put the scale of the incident into greater perspective, the SIM card hack gives its perpetrators the ability to monitor a significant portion of the world’s voice and data cellular communications… and they can do it all secretly. That access spans across major telecom networks, including some of America’s largest like Verizon, AT&T, Sprint and T-Mobile, and approximately 450 other wireless providers around the globe—all clients of Gemalto.

The hack is likely to involve many American consumers since nearly 90 percent of U.S. households use wireless service and 39 percent of them are wireless-only, according to 2013 data reported by international non-profit wireless communications organization CTIA.

While many countries put a heavy emphasis on their citizens’ privacy, governments around the world have become increasingly vigilant against terrorism and other potential threats. In many cases, they view wiretapping as a mechanism necessary to help ensure the safety and well-being of their people.

What do you think? If the U.S. and the United Kingdom really are guilty of hacking Gemalto, were they justified in doing so in the name of national security?

What do you do to protect your own privacy? I’d love to hear your opinions, so please, drop by my Facebook page and let me know.

Carlos Gamino