Wiretapping allows people to listen to the phone calls of others. Learn how wiretapping works, wiretapping history and about wiretapping techniques.

2008 HowStuffWorks

One thing you can see in How Telephones Work is that the phone system is extremely simple. And if you've read How Wiretapping Works, you know that it is possible and relatively easy for someone else to tap into your line, especially if you live in a dorm or an apartment building. If someone has access to the wire, they can connect a phone to it and use your line. This is pretty rare, though -- for one thing, the penalty for doing it is stiff. It is also relatively easy to detect and, in general, phone wires are not that easy to get to because they are hidden inside walls. However, it is not unheard of.

There are two possibilities:

  • The perpetrator can create a permanent splice into your wire, in which case you would be able to see the splice if you can trace the entire length of the wire.
  • The perpetrator can clip in intermittently at an junction box. This is what a telephone repair person does when testing your line. In that case, there is no physical evidence.

It is fairly easy to catch someone doing this. One thing you can do is get a tape recorder for phone calls. The recorder is completely automatic and starts recording as soon as anyone picks up any extension (which would include an extension tapped into your line). It captures both sides of the conversation. You could listen to the tape and probably get a good idea of who has tapped in.

­ The other alternative is to buy a phone that has a light that turns on whenever any extension is in use. Then you would know when another person is making a call, and you could pick up your phone and listen in. The tape recorder option is better because it produces physical evidence.

­ Hooking into a phone line like this is, as you would expect, a federal offense. Once you have evidence that it has occurred, turning it over to the phone company or police department for prosecution is the correct path to follow.

If secure communication lines are important to you, then click here to learn how phone conferencing security works. See the next page for more information.