Today, in an age when technology has gone wireless, the phrase “wearing a wire” is a largely allegorical term of art, says the New York Times. “In the old days, they would say, 'Let me pat you down for a wire' and boom, everybody would just open their shirt and say, 'I'm not wearing a wire,' ” said retired undercover FBI agent Joaquin Garcia. “Now there is no need to wear a wire. It's become extinct. It's all gone digital. But what are you going to say, 'I'm wearing digital,' instead of 'I'm wearing a wire'? It's just become part of the parlance of law enforcement.”
The methods have remained the same, with federal agents and undercover officers using covert recording equipment to ensnare would-be criminals, sometimes with the help of a well-placed informer or cooperating witness. “Technology has made it so easy to plant a device that is much less detectable,” said deputy U.S. Attorney Richard Zabel. Nowadays, recording equipment is miniaturized. “Your options have increased a lot because the devices are a lot smaller,” Zabel said. “They can really hide them now in buttons, in pens, at the point of a pen, in a cuff link or the edge of a tie clip.” Frisking an undercover agent for a wire can be as fruitless as finding a pay phone and “dropping a dime” to call the police. “That is sort of an antiquated way to look for a device,” Zabel said.