Becks' Sexy Texts Cause Privacy Worries
By Carlo Longino, Tue Apr 13 23:30:00 GMT 2004

UK carriers say text messages aren't susceptible to eavesdropping, regardless of the saucy SMS printed in English tabloids as evidence of an alleged affair by soccer star David Beckham.

British papers have been buzzing for more than a week with stories that the married player had an affair with a former assistant of his, and as part of one paper's "exclusive" (read: expensive) coverage, it reprinted excised versions of some X-rated texts Beckham -- coincidentally the advertising face of Vodafone -- had sent the woman.

There's been some question over how the paper got the messages, leading to speculation that they'd been plucked out of the ether by some techno-paparazzi, which in turn fuelled public concerns that anybody's SMS were vulnerable, an idea carriers moved quickly to shoot down.

A Vodafone spokesman said it would take a serious techie effort to obtain the contents of somebody's message, entailing setting up a base station and somehow forcing your target's phone to use it. SMS on GSM networks are also encrypted during transmission. Just last month, an analyst from the US Drug Enforcement Agency said that they couldn't intercept text messages, something that hindered their pursuit of drug traffickers.

Other concerns involved someone gaining access to a carrier's computer system and fishing the message contents out of a database, but most carriers say they only hang on to relevant billing information like the time and destination of messages. It's understandable they wouldn't waste resources on keeping copies of all the text and images sent by users -- although one Australian carrier did just that for 28 days after a message was sent, a policy that's changed in the wake of the scandal.

This, of course, isn't the first time a guy's gotten in trouble for carrying on over SMS...