摘要： In this issue of TMTPOST Image, we will present to our readers a 'hunter', a person who tackles tapping devices, pinhole cameras and tracking devices.
He Zhihui entered an unfamiliar office, as a hunter entering a jungle. His prey were eyes and ears hiding in dark places: pinhole cameras and bugging devices.
While inspecting his surroundings, He Zhihui skilfully donned his white gloves. Several black trolley cases were on the floor. He opened them one by one, taking out the inspection devices of various shapes from inside the cases for installation, testing and adjustment.
The 'hunting' had begun, and he would miss no corner or gap. Nor would he leave any object that turned up unchecked. After one hour, he would inform the owner whether the office had been bugged or secretly filmed.
He Zhihui is 44 years old this year. For nearly 14 years, his life has been closely associated with 'spying'. From 2005 to 2008, he was a private detective working in a gray area. In 2009, new legislation was passed in the country to protect citizens' personal information and he was sentenced to seven months in jail for the possession of other people's call logs and personal information.
Having suffered setbacks, he was determined to reshape his career and become a spy hunter, to provide anti-spy and inspection services for listed companies, financial institutions and individuals whose privacy has been violated; at the same time, he would also work on researching, developing and selling anti-spy equipment to fight against the people behind all those bugging devices, pinhole cameras and tracking devices.
Golden Era of Private Detectives
In 2005, at the age of 30, He Zhihui completed his military service and together with three of his fellow veterans, made the decision to travel to Shenzhen, with the intention to make a life for himself in the city abound with opportunities.
As it turned out, his experience in Shenzhen badly disheartened him and made him feel terribly incompetent. He had just finished his military service, lacked any work experience and the only positions on offer were those such as security guards. "Salaries were too low to make a living," said He Zhihui. However, he was not going to be resigned to failure.
One day, He Zhihui read a newspaper report on private detectives; the newspaper's portrayal of the lives of private detectives reminded him of his time in the army. He was very intrigued. After some investigation, he became one of Shenzhen's first group of private detectives.
He provides three services: evidence collection, people and address finding, and debt collection.
Women hire him to take photos as evidence of their husbands' sexual liaison outside of their marriages. Men commission him to find substantive evidence of their wives' extramarital affairs. In some cases involving debt disputes, the defendants flee in order to avoid obligations, and the plaintiffs will then commission him to trace the defendants down.
Business people hire him to pursue and investigate deadbeat debtors. Companies hire him to tackle the problem of counterfeit products from their competitors. Others employ him to use as a 'cat's paw' to investigate officials.
Having worked as a private detective for several years, He Zhihui is proficient in the installation and use of tracking devices, bugging devices and pinhole cameras. He knows very well which locations are the most suitable for installing these devices in residential homes, offices and cars, and also the most effective installation methods.
For three years from 2005 to 2008, He Zhihui had already been worked as a private detective and his business was thriving. When business was at its best, he rented a large office in Haiwang Mansion in Nanshan, the most prestigious office block in Shenzhen at the time.
For private detectives, it was a golden era but also an era without order. They operated in a gray area, and were a group of people who were difficult to be identified as good or evil. All of this ended in 2009. That year, He Zhihui was given a seven-month jail sentence for "illegally obtaining personal information".
The crime of illegally obtaining citizens' personal information refers to obtaining personal information illegally through theft or other means. Where the circumstances are serious, the person who committed the crime can be sentenced either to a fixed-term imprisonment of no more than three years, to criminal detention with a fine, or only subject to a fine.
The police found five call logs in the computers in He Zhihui's office; on each log, there were more than 200 call records. They also found documents containing personal information on his USB drive.
"It was a new law then and I didn't really understand it," He Zhihui said to TMTPOST Image. Having suffered the consequences, "I know now its power and now I'm an amateur lawyer myself." "Now it's regulated more rigorously. There were more than 200 phone call records on each call log. If the same offense were committed today, it would be much more serious."
In Amendment (IX) to the Criminal Law enforced on November 1, 2015, the protection of citizens' personal information has been further strengthened:
In the case of obtaining personal information illegally through theft or other means, where the circumstances are deemed serious, the person who committed the crime shall be sentenced to a fixed-term imprisonment of between three and seven years as well as imposed a fine.
In 2017, the Supreme People's Court and the Supreme People's Procuratorate released their judicial interpretation on the meaning of "serious circumstance".
It includes: 1. Illegally obtaining, selling, or providing 50 or more pieces of information related to citizens' whereabouts, tracking data, communication details, credit status, or property ownership information; and 2. illegally obtaining, selling, or providing 500 or more pieces of citizens' personal information that are likely to affect citizens' personal or property safety, such as information concerning accommodations, telecommunications records, physical health or business transactions.
Career Reshaping: the battle against pinhole cameras and bugging devices
Since the installation of bugging devices is against the law, they should be dismantled. He Zhihui made up his mind to reshape his career. Relying on his knowledge of the performance of these kinds of equipment and their installation methods, together with his friends, he began to develop and sell anti-spy equipment, as well as provide offline anti-spy inspection services.
In 2009, He Zhihui and his partner started their Taobao business. They have also trained three professional inspection teams to provide on-site inspection services for clients all over China.
Most of He Zhihui's anti-spy inspection clients are listed companies and financial institutions in cities such as Beijing, Shanghai, Hangzhou, Shenzhen and Guangzhou. Many of them have signed annual service agreements with Antebo Group where He Zhihui works. Inspection staff members visit their clients for regular monthly on-site inspections or prior to important meetings. Among the rest of their clients, one third of them are individuals.
On average, the three inspection teams carry out inspection of 20 companies each month. To make a booking for an offline inspection service, a client needs to pay a 30% deposit to He Zhihui's Tmall company online. For new clients, He Zhihui usually offers a trial inspection to test their performance. The client may install some spy equipment themselves and if the inspector fails to find these pieces of equipment, the client will not be obliged to pay the inspection fee and the 30% deposit will be returned.
“Half of the clients will first place some devices themselves to test us,” He Zhihui told TMTPOST Image. He Zhihui's team passed every test.
Inspection service fees differ depending on the sizes and locations of inspection sites. In Guangdong province, the starting price is 5,000 RMB, while outside the province, it is 10,000 RMB. During each inspection, at least two inspectors will be present, and it will take approximately one hour to conduct an inspection of an office of 100 square meters.
The inspection of a company is usually conducted in the evening after office hours. The company's meeting rooms, office of the chairman of the board and general manager, and the reception room are the areas most inspected. Bugging devices are the key inspection targets since most spy activities that target enterprises aim to obtain commercial secrets.
Arriving at an inspection site, He Zhihui will first inspect the surrounding areas, donning a pair of white gloves. This pair of gloves will protect the expensive inspection equipment in his hands from erosion by sweat. More importantly, on any piece of spying device found on an inspection site, the inspector must not leave any fingerprints.
When was the last time your office was refurbished, and in which areas? What electronic devices were newly purchased? Which electronic devices were not purchased by the company but given to the company as gifts? Before formally starting an inspection, He Zhihui will always ask these questions to the client.
Most recently refurbished areas as well as newly acquired electronic devices are key inspection targets. Spying devices can be easily installed on telephones, routers, air conditioners, computers, green plants, photo frames, pictures on the wall, decorative items, as well as areas situated under coffee tables and couches, behind meeting desks, in the interlining of chairs, even on whiteboard pens and erasers.
During an inspection, seven to eight sets of professional equipment are needed, including spectroanalyzers, analog signal acquisition units, electromagnetic field meters, long pole cameras and so on. All these pieces of equipment have been imported from countries and regions including Russia, the Ukraine, the U.S. and Taiwan. Some of them have been developed by He Zhihui and his team.
The junction detector imported from Russia has a price tag of 130,000 RMB. It is a piece of proactive protecting equipment that works like a radar. It is able to detect a spying device no matter if it is turned on or off, and no matter if it emits radio waves or not.
It produces several different alarm signals in different colors and its power can be adjusted. As soon as circuit boards, diodes, metal or plastic are detected in a scanned area, it will sound the alarm.
However, it does have some limitations since detection of any circuit boards and diode will trigger the alarm, which means it will sound the alarm when it is used to scan a normal electronic device. Experience plays an important role in judging whether an alarm is false or whether there is indeed any spying equipment present in the scanned electronic device. Small details for instance signs that the electronic device has been tampered with, any chinks or signs of unusual dust wiping need also to be observed.
Besides old fashioned plug-in bugging devices, recording pens are the most common devices for tapping. They have memory cards, are portable and do not produce radio waves. Therefore, detection of recording pens is not possible using radio wave detectors. Scanning by junction detectors is the only way to detect recording pens.
The latest bugging devices are able to perform real-time transmission via 4G or Wi-Fi and can work autonomously. They will enter a sleep mode when there is no sound. When the sound in the area reaches a certain level of decibels, they will switch themselves on automatically, perform tapping and transmit data in real-time.
This is a first-generation pinhole camera. It uses analog signals. The spying photographer must install the receiver in a location within a perimeter of approximately 300 meters of the camera and control the equipment with a remote control. Detectors can capture images taken by the analog signal pinhole camera within minutes and will not affect the spying photographer's reception of the images. With the emergence of digital signal pinhole cameras, analog signal pinhole cameras are rarely used these days.
In the inspection that He Zhihui has conducted, these spying devices have been mostly concealed underneath couches or coffee tables, or inside of telephones in offices and meeting rooms. In some private residences, bugging devices have been secretly installed as a consequence of relationship problems or domestic disputes. Five pinhole cameras were discovered in one apartment.
If a client desires to identify the people who have placed the bugging devices, He Zhihui has the following advice:
If the bugging device is a recording pen, it is best not to reveal the bugging to anyone. Put the device back, install surveillance and wait for the people who have placed the device to return.
For plug-in pinhole cameras, reading what is on the memory may reveal information about the perpetrator, since he/she may have taken his/her own pictures accidentally when testing or installing the device.
For a bugging device that uses a telephone card, the perpetrator may be identified by investigating the telephone card.
In the case of a real-time transmission pinhole camera, it is possible that the installer has left some fingerprints on the device. The best approach is to call the police. Obtaining surveillance of the surrounding areas is another approach to help identify the suspect.
Most clients are not surprised when they see the devices that have been hidden in corners and gaps. "In fact, they know quite well what's happening and are not surprised. Furthermore, deep down they also know who has done it," He Zhihui told TMTPOST Image. He also knows that only very few clients will actually call the police.
He Zhihui enters an unfamiliar office, as a hunter enters a jungle. He is very hopeful that he will find something, just as a hunter hopes to exit from a jungle having hunted down his prey.
However, according to statistics, bugging and filming devices have been detected in only 20% of cases. In the other 80%, He Zhihui could, in fact, detect nothing. He said that he was not disappointed in such cases, though he was of course hopeful in the beginning that he would find something.
"From an inspection, we can be sure that a place is 100% safe and that brings a feeling of achievement," says He Zhihui. Some clients would feel disappointed, having strongly hoped that we would find something in their homes.
When the reporter of TMTPOST Image requested to observe a real inspection and interview the client, He Zhihui resolutely refused.
"This is a really private business and all people who request an inspection do so in order to protect their privacy. We are not allowed to take photos ourselves at inspection sites." He Zhihui said that protection of clients' privacy is the number one priority and rule. "When we are conducting an inspection on site, we concentrate on our inspection and it is better to know as little as possible about the client. Even if we have seen or guessed something about the client, we will pretend to know nothing."
He Zhihui has noticed that spying technologies and devices on the market experience a round of upgrades every two to three years. Behind He Zhihui, there is an R&D team of more than a thousand engineers. He expressed his opinion to TMTPOST Image that working in this industry, one will not be able to counteract technological breakthroughs of spying products unless the R&D keeps up.
"If the virtue of a priest is one foot tall, so the evil of the devil rises ten," is an old Chinese saying. It describes the situation in which an outlaw constantly finds ways to outsmart the law no matter its reach. Yet, He Zhihui rejects this will happen, insisting also that the spies are no more the devil than he and his team of inspectors are a group of priests.