Susan Vaughan here.
Recent revelations of government mass collection of emails and other spying have prompted me to consider how my research for books might trigger FBI or NSA attention. When I began writing romantic suspense, researching meant walking into a library building and sitting down with large tomes or calling on experts in person or on the phone. Sometimes fascinating but tedious and slow. For my first published book, I telephoned the Drug Enforcement Agency in Boston with a list of questions. The Public Information Officer required that I send in personal information including my Social Security number. I also had to ask my employer to send her a letter verifying my identity and upstanding character. A month later—yes, a month—I was able to ask my questions—make of pistols, make of vehicles, etc. Basic stuff. That still didn’t mean the PIO would answer. She did share the weaponry but wouldn’t reveal what vehicles they drove. Now the information I wanted can be found on the Internet.
The standard issue pistol is a Glock 19, and the vehicles vary depending on the case, some labeled DEA, some anonymous, like this one. But hmm, does my search engine then alert NSA?
For another book, I wanted to know if it might be legal to carry a pistol on an airliner. And if so, what were the procedures and requirements. Easy research. I popped over to the Transportation Security Administration website and found my answer.
The above were confiscated at an airport security check. “Oh, officer, I forgot I had my gun in my carryon/handbag/camera case.”
Except for certain trained law enforcement personnel and air marshals, the answer is no weapons in carryon luggage. Weapons in checked baggage must follow certain regulations and inspection. But does the TSA know I visited their site to look for that?
I had a story idea involving a person who supposedly died in a disaster—earthquake, hurricane, terror attack—but who took the opportunity to disappear because of, take your pick: abusive husband, mob hit contracted, had committed a crime. So I wondered how disappearing could be accomplished in this age of electronic everything and security check. Staying anonymous is easier for illegal immigrants who’ve never had legal status than it is for citizens.
You need money, credible identification, transportation, and probably a fake birth certificate and a fake Social Security number. I learned on many websites that today it’s very difficult, but possible. Not that I’m thinking of disappearing, of course. Are you listening, FBI?
For my current project, a mystery not a romantic suspense, I need to know how to hack into a cell phone or a person’s cell phone records. Does the hacker need physical access to the phone? Or is the phone number enough?
I haven’t looked this up yet, but if anyone’s paying attention, I want it known that even if I learn the answers to my questions, I haven’t the technical expertise to carry off hacking of any kind.
*** My newest release is one of 10 in KILLER ROMANCES, a boxed set by 10 romantic suspense authors, only 99 cents for a limited time. My contribution is PRIMAL OBSESSION. You can find more information and buy links at http://www.susanvaughan.com.