Calling All Ceo’s: Would you know if your boardroom was bugged?

Finding bugs (not of the cockroach or multi-legged variety) in your corporate boardroom, home or office is something you expect to see in Hollywood Blockbusters, not in the safety of your office or sanctity of your home. You may naively assume that covert listening devices planted to snoop never happens in Australia, but sadly that’s not the case.

In fact, just this week, Yahoo News ran an online article about The Maritime Union of Australia engaging the services of a barrister to find out who bugged their Brisbane Boardroom.

The Australian Financial Review revealed State secretary Stephen Cumberlidge had sent written warnings to union staff that they will be questioned as part of the ongoing investigation. The letter seen by the AFR cites that an independent security contractor was hired to sweep the Cannon HIll boardroom and discovered the listening device.

Spokesperson for the Maritime Union of Australia, Paddy Crumlin is reported to have denied the involvement of officials or staff, nor did he say who might be to blame.

The MUA are just one of many that have had their privacy invaded on a regular basis and it’s not just exclusively corporate businesses. A few years back the All Blacks were targeted by an illicit listening device found embedded in a foam chair of a Sydney hotel boardroom prior to them playing the annual Bledisloe Cup. The evidence was handed over to the police. (source)

Why would someone want to bug a corporate boardroom?
There is a high demand for commercial intelligence to beat competitors, cornering the corporate marketplace. It may seem like a huge risk, but some people will do anything for money.

Based on past experience, sometimes unhappy ex-employees (even those in higher management positions like CEOs) will resort to bugging their offices if they are leaving to work for a competitor, fired or made redundant. We have been involved in a number of corporate bug sweeps where a CEO or executive has left a bug behind to collect sensitive information.

Bugs may be used to glean passwords and email addresses which are then used to commit fraud or gain top secrets similar to the not-so secret 11 herbs and spices Kentucky Fried Chicken kept tightly guarded.

Are bugs illegal in Queensland?

Listening devices in Queensland are regulated by the Invasion of Privacy Act 1971 (QLD). Section 4 of the Act defines a listening device as any form of instrument, apparatus or equipment capable of being used to listen to, monitor, overhear, or record a private conversation. You may be conjuring up images of spy gadgets and state-of-the-art surveillance equipment used in the remake of Get Smart or James Bond’s Goldfinger. (source) but the definition of listening device can refer to using notetakers or smartphones to record conversations.

Different states are covered by different policies and procedures. In New South Wales, the Surveillance Devices Act 2007 (NSW) regulates the use of listening devices in New South Wales. The Act also covers the use of data surveillance, optical surveillance and tracking devices. Breaches of the Act can lead to criminal charges. However, no matter where you live it’s generally illegal to record a conversation without permission.

How do I know if my office has been bugged?

Technology is so advanced now that you may have absolutely anyone listening in to your conversations or board meetings, which is why we advise regular sweeps if you are worried about intellectual property. However tell-tale signs may include:

  • Trade secrets being exposed
  • Confidential information leaked about employees/documents/takeovers
  • Competitors seem to beat you to the punch every single time
  • Strange noises on phone lines
  • Someone has broken into your office, but nothing appears to be taken
  • You’ve been gifted an electronic device from a ‘random’
  • Any small holes in objects, pictures or furniture
  • Smoke alarms, photos or wall art that make look to be slightly askew

    What should I do if I suspect my boardroom has been bugged or a breach of privacy?

  1. Call Prime Investigations immediately from a safe location without mentioning it to anyone, as you may inadvertently alert the person involved.
  2. Make notes about any suspicious activity, breaches of privacy, so we are aware of all the circumstances.
  3. We will conduct surveillance before discreetly entering the building and quality make a sweep of your office without drawing any attention to ourselves.

Don’t write-off those niggling thoughts or hunches as being paranoid. It’s better to be safe than sorry. If you’re ready to get your boardroom swept for bugs, contact us for a confidential consultation.

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