Monitoring Your Privacy

By: Angela Howard Email
By: Angela Howard Email

Cameron and Trisha Miller have what some may call the perfect family. They have one boy and one girl and they keep watch over their little ones with their handy, dandy baby monitors. However, those monitors do more than just give the Miller's piece of mind when their children are sleeping, they also provide a way for the couple to see and hear inside other people's homes.

"One night, we were in our room and we had just put [our son] to bed and we heard a woman singing to her children in a very hurried manner," said Trisha Miller.

Trisha said she and her husband chuckled, finding it comical that they could hear another mother trying to get her children to bed. But that wasn't the last time the Miller's monitor would pick up another signal. It happened again about a month later.

"I was standing at the foot of our bed, checking on him and it started to get stat icy - the video monitor did - and then it settled on another image, and it wasn't the image of our baby's room and our baby. It was the image of an elderly man in a hospital-type bed," said Cameron Miller.

That image made the Millers wonder how often others may hear or see the things they do with their children and how easy it is for signals to cross.

The way it works is surprisingly simple. The signal transmitted by your monitor is often times the same as or very similar to the signal transmitted by other monitoring devices, allowing someone to tap into it from outside the home and possibly see and hear everything that goes on inside.

"It's the physics behind it, the nature and characteristics of electromagnetic waves," said Woodfin "Woody" Walker, retired chief engineer at WFSU and current HAM radio operator.

Those waves Walker referred to are assigned - in chunks - to various commodities like cell phones, TV stations, and the military, but there are a few small spaces amongst all those designated frequencies where low-powered products like baby monitors are allowed to operate.

"Usually the strongest one will prevail, usually, but there are exceptions," said Walker.

It's during those exceptions when the device you thought was completely safe may actually become a gateway into your home, and while most eavesdroppers will be the neighbor who stumbles upon your monitor's frequency by accident, others may be calculated encounters by those lying in wait.

"This is a very easy means, if someone is aware of the capabilities of someone coming into your home and you never know it's happening," said Cameron.

But the ability to tap into that signal is only available when the monitor is on, so the best advice is to stop it at the source.

"Turn it off. It's a target. I mean, there's people out there that's probably looking for it and if it's off, they're not going to find it, but if it's on, they may zero in on it," said Walker.

In the meantime, the Miller's say they will continue to use the monitors because the advantages of them outweigh the alternative.

"That's just what you have to deal with if you want to monitor your children," Trisha said.

Mr. Walker did mention that the scanners that HAM operators and many others have in their homes and vehicles. He said the power of the baby monitors is so weak, you'd have to have a specialized device to pick up the signal.

This, however, leads many to wonder what exactly they can do to protect themselves, their families and their homes from those who are bound and determined to tap in.

Florida Department of Law Enforcement Special Agent Supervisor Mike Phillips says just about anything with a wireless signal can be tapped into if you have the right technology. However, there are ways to protect yourself from intruders.

He said to know your neighborhood and those in it. if you see or hear any one or any thing suspicious, call police. Phillips also said to buy wireless devices with scramblers if possible and turn off any device when it's not in use.

He said it's possible that baby monitors could become a gateway used by those with ill intentions, but FDLE has not had any such cases yet, and there is certainly no epidemic of anything like this taking place.

For ways to keep your home and your family safe, visit http://www.safeflorida.net/


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