As a pretty dedicated anarchist, rule-breaker and malcontent, I often find myself at odds with the British police. I have been the subject of 3 searches (that I know of) over the last 8 months (including 1 warrantless search).

The last search was last week, where, as per usual, my computer equipment was seized. As I always do, I went out and replaced it. I was setting up my new laptop yesterday when I noticed that my ADSL speed was running at about 20% of its usual speed. I checked everything, rebooted, did the usual dance and concluded there must be a problem on the line.

I rang the ISP who confirmed that there had been a sudden degradation of the line. I asked for specifics, and lo and behold, the sudden drop in line quality occurred at 9.40AM while I was detained and the police were in my apartment.

I took the master socket apart this morning and there was nothing obvious. Am I being paranoid? Surely there are easier ways to monitor phone and Internet usage? What kind of device could have been installed on the line to cause a sudden increase in noise?

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    From my reading the core question here is "What kind of tap would result in a large drop in SNR?" the surveillance concerns are really ancillary to that. While the topic itself would be more appropriate on Server Fault or Network Engineering it would probably be closed because there's not enough information to really answer the line noise question. – Scott Pack Jun 20 '13 at 13:55
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    I read it as "would the police put a physical tap on my phone line", and (at least in the USA), I'd say that's unlikely. I've assisted a few police investigations in a corporate setting and anytime they've wanted to capture phone calls, they didn't need physical access to anything, they just needed DID numbers for the person in question and it made no difference whether the office had analog phone lines or digital ISDN/T1 delivery. – Johnny Jun 20 '13 at 14:06
  • Thanks Scott, I agree. I have too few data to really understand what is happening. – Under Surveillance Jun 20 '13 at 14:07
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    @Johnny: My experience as an investigator is much the same. The police would issue a subpoena to the ISP, or phone company, for call records. Or, if equipment were to be installed, it would be done by the ISP maybe under supervision by the police. I wouldn't expect law enforcement to be doing that work themselves. – Scott Pack Jun 20 '13 at 14:18
  • Onion routing is your friend: TOR – Mike Samuel Jun 20 '13 at 14:56

Since the police would get a court order to have the phone company tap your line, it's unlikely that they would resort to a physical tap - they'd just get the phone company to digitally tap in (or record) your phone calls, or mirror your internet data. Each of which would be completely unnoticed to you (a tap would be much less effective if there were some obvious sign that it was in place).

If someone other than the police is listening to your calls, then it's possible that they could disrupt your ADSL service by clipping some recording or listening device to your phone line.

  • Thanks Johnny. Whatever happened, happened while the Police were in my apartment. Just seems a bit coincidental. I wonder if they replaced any of my kit, perhaps a router or something. – Under Surveillance Jun 20 '13 at 13:38
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    There seems to be little reason for the police to do that since they can get all of your internet data from your ISP or phone company. I could see them installing a keylogger to try to capture any encryption passphrases, but not any telco equipment that wouldn't give them access to anything that the phone company couldn't give them access to. – Johnny Jun 20 '13 at 13:49
  • It doesn't make any sense to me either. It could just be an enormous coincidence, it just seems improbable. I considered the possibility that they were doing something ultra vires if they were unable to obtain a warrant, but even that seems far-fetched. I'm considering paying a counter-surveillance company to do a bug sweep. – Under Surveillance Jun 20 '13 at 13:58
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    @UnderSurveillance From my experience of the British police, they don't waste time with Hollywood-style phone taps. They just fax a PACE warrant and they get their tap at the provider level. – Polynomial Jun 20 '13 at 14:30
  • @Polynomial - Probably why my solicitor (and wife) thinks I'm being paranoid. It's just that I know all my Internet traffic goes out over VPN to another jurisdiction. So if they wanted to sniff traffic, they would have to get creative. – Under Surveillance Jun 20 '13 at 14:32

I don't think you'd be able to find any evidence of your line being monitored (besides what you already describe making you suspicious that they are), as I highly doubt authorities would need to resort to using any on-premise devices to do that. A lot more likely scenario, assuming you are being tapped, is your ISP was issued a surveillance gag order in order to route your traffic that would normally pass your ISP's switch, instead through the network switch of whichever authoritative body is investigating your case, and thus gathering evidence without you being able to find any direct evidence of it, or your ISP allowed to disclose any information pertaining to ongoing investigation under threat of legal action against them, if they did (again, if at all this is the case).

Such gag orders are known to have been issued by courts in many countries in the interests of national security, including UK (see Wiki link above). The sudden drop in your ADSL line quality could as well be contributed to reconnecting your landline to a different switch, one that's possibly located further away than ISP's own switch is (ADSL lines are highly susceptible to the length that such connections need to travel through normal copper landlines). A few suggestion on how you could perhaps establish with less doubt your ADSL line is being or is not being tapped:

  • Check the contract with your ISP for any word on how fast are they supposed to respond to any reported issues with their equipment, ring them up and report problems with your ADSL line that you're experiencing. Then see if they respond at all, or if they do, for signs of avoiding disclosure. Tech guys ISPs send aren't really trained in dealing with their customers in covert ways, and their response alone might give you clues. If you had field technicians come to you previously (besides when you got connected), ask your ISP to send the same team, if possible.

  • When you're on the phone with your ISP reporting line issues, ask them to tell you the values of their qualitative measures of your line (distance to the switch, e.t.c.). Call them a few times at different times of the day until you get values from at least two call centre operators. It's likely disclosing such information wouldn't be covered in the gag order, if it was at all issued, and provided you have values to compare them to (compare to your closest neighbor's values, or to values from any previous service call, or maybe a field technician's report when you got connected?), you could maybe establish that the line is either indeed a different, or the same one that just happens to be picking up more noise for whatever reasons and is all a coincidence that can be explained otherwise.

I'll try to think of a few more ways, mind not all might apply in your case, I'm not UK based and such things might also be covered differently between ISPs themselves. Honestly though, if your line is being tapped, it's more likely it wouldn't be directly on the copper wire connecting you with the ISP's switch, but later redirecting your traffic to a different network, meaning there wouldn't be any noticeable difference on the ADSL line, at least not due to this cause. It is also quite possible somebody just moved something while your house was being searched, and some wires got partially disconnected in the process. It wouldn't be unheard of, my mom did that once, while searching for some old umbrellas in the hallway storage area, where the phone socket was installed. I say you call your ISP, report your problems, and see if they can make it work as it used to.

  • Thanks TidalWave. I said in the OP that it was the British police. I wasn't aware that they could redirect my connection through another server. Could I check that? Would my IP address change? – Under Surveillance Jun 20 '13 at 14:03
  • Must have missed that, sorry. But I do explicitly mention UK also already. Not sure if you'd be able to tell if your connection was redirected without your provider's help though. One thing that comes to mind is asking them for actual data regarding your landline, such as length and measured impedance (they have this data and might not be in the gag order, if it's been issued at all). Provided you have such data from before you suspected your line is being tapped, you could come to conclusion this way by comparing the values and excluding other possibilities. – TildalWave Jun 20 '13 at 14:09

If warranted, the police already have the authority to request and obtain access to your Internet service provider's logs and follow your every step online. I wouldn't really worry about bugging your connection with a hardware to acquire that kind of information. I believe if certain agencies wanted to bug you they'd use technologies that doesn't produce that much noise and they'd be way less detectable. I think it's just coincidence.

That was my somewhat subjective opinion on the matter. Now let's dive into this a bit more. Allow me to start by saying that yes you probably are being paranoid but this is actually very understandable. You want the police to follow you, because the more they show concerns about your activities the more you'll feel that what you're doing is important. Your sense of achievement comes from the fact that the mainstream disapproves your ideas.

There are certain set of rules in a society to which you've subscribed by continuing to live in the society. If you think you can sustain yourself and your family without the police to protect you, without the fire department, with the public transportation, without roads, without the sewage system, etc. then, by all means, you can exit the society thus allowing you to have your own rules without somebody forcing anything on you. But, you see, you enjoy the comfort and ease of life provided by the society in which you live. The Internet, computers, mobile phones, supermarkets, meat shops, etc. All of that makes your life easier.

In order for that model to be sustained, some rules must be followed. Breaking those rules and then being punished for it doesn't make you a victim (although I'm sure you'd be happy if I validate your opinion on the matter). I think you're even being beyond paranoid.

  • I've been an anarchist long enough to not care about having people who know nothing about anarchism validate my beliefs. To be honest, I want to be told I'm being paranoid. – Under Surveillance Jun 20 '13 at 14:05
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    "In order for that model to be sustained, rules must be followed. Breaking those rules and then being punished for it doesn't make you a victim" - Tell that to the people of Syria, Libya and Egypt. – DKNUCKLES Jun 20 '13 at 14:23
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    @DKNUCKLES - Amen. And Tunisia, Bahrain, Morocco, Libya, the US and the UK. Also might be worth asking Julian Assange, Bradley Manning and Edward Snowden for their opinion. – Under Surveillance Jun 20 '13 at 14:29
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    -1. The OP didn't ask for a social commentary or anyone's philosophical views on the subject of law and order (even though the language used in the question may have incited such a response). He just wants to know if the symptoms he's noticed are indicative of a security breach. – asteri Jun 20 '13 at 14:29
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    @Jeff That would be justified if I didn't provide an actual answer. I did, it's in the first 5 lines of this post. I politely disagree with you, my post is useful. Just because I wrote extra lines doesn't make it "not useful". – Adi Jun 20 '13 at 14:32

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