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Sex, spycams and cinemascope


Take care before you change clothes, before you take a shower. You could be on camera. That cute little bug inside the bathroom cabinet, behind the dressing table mirror, could make you an actor very soon.


When I was a kid, I went to a small-town private school run by Jesuits. The school, with standards 5 to 10 had two divisions in each standard. With 50 students in each standard, it added up to 600 students in all. It was supposed to be a prestigious school in the small-town locality.

The new school principal, a priest who had just returned from the US, initially found the boys' school a little ruly and unmanageable. When I entered standard ten, the principal got audio speakers installed in every division in the school, besides the faculty room, so that he could give instructions to his 'audience' from the comfort of his office. Shortly thereafter, audio listeners were installed into the same speaker boxes, so that the Principal could listen in on what was happening in the class, who was creating mischief, and which teacher was "too lenient" on noisy students.

It was an effective way of keeping tabs. We knew about the annoying speaker boxes, which we thought were one-way communication. It was not until the principal's peon came looking for several of us that we knew that he was also listening to our liberal remarks on him. That was 1988. The days of VCRs, black and white TVs and Doordarshan.

A good 16 years have passed by.

In September 2004, a news item in the Australian press went thus: A spy camera was discovered from a women's shower at the prestigious Lincoln College, in Adelaide. The hostel provides accommodation for almost 250 university students. The principal termed the incident "frightening". The Australian Attorney-General described the incident as "sickening and perverted." He also said that South Australia did not yet have proper legislation to tackle such incidents -- a dilemma faced by many nations who have surrendered their privacy to the techno-voyeurs.

In Pune, Kulkarni, a 58-year old gentleman was arrested for installing spy cameras in his house to snoop on the girls living there on rental basis. He was accused of watching the girls in his bed room TV. The girls left the bungalow. The police dismantled the spycams and wiring. It was not found whether he published the video material or even stored them in a digital format.

This comes close on the heels of the stolen images of a Tamil movie actress Trisha Krishnan taking a shower - later proven fake - apparently shot by a spycam. The Delhi Public School MMS sex scandal, another case of techno-voyeurism, is already behind us. The Miss Jammu Anara Gupta CD case has already been disproved by the Hyderabad Forensic Lab, which rejected the Jammu Police's contention that the model had appeared in a porn CD on sale.

It is not as if spy cameras were out of action for long. It is just that they have suddenly become hugely popular. Technology awareness among potential users, easy availability and improved ease of use have led to a proliferation of spycams. Lights, action, spy camera!

Spy cameras have become, for good or bad, increasingly popular tools for use at home, office and outside for surveillance. There has been a sudden outrage against the use of spycams in the media and by concerned citizens. First the positives:

Even enemies of spycams will concede that many of the benefits of spycams are unmatched. Abroad, many young mothers, when they leave their baby with a baby-sitter keep a spycam running so that they can keep tabs. Many offices and department stores legitimately use spycams to keep pilferers away. In another avatar, the spycam is used as a door camera, to see who is outside, without opening the door. Many residential complexes use a camera at the building entrance to watch the visitors and ward off undesirable elements. Security systems in many labs and industrial complexes use a web of surveillance devices, including spycams to prevent leakage of sensitive, high-technology information.

In a study conducted by babycentre.com among 16,000 British women, it was found that 66% of the interviewees said they were ready to install a spycam to check on their nannies, if that option was available. Only 8% said they won't.

But, is security any excuse to invade on someone's privacy? If spycam usage is left to each individual's discretion, what happens? Many feel that filming someone unknowingly steps on one's privacy rights. Rights apart, if someone comes to know you are spying on him/her, the first response is mostly likely a tight slap. Rights and responsibilities comes only later.

A spycam is very ease to use. Almost as simple as a camera phone, the other innovation-cum-menace. The spy camera, antenna, DC/AC adaptor and wires can be put together in less than five minutes. For a practised voyeur, just three minutes. The spy camera can be linked to a computer and configured to transmit the signal on the Internet, or over a network. Remember 'American Beauty'?

The spycam can be concealed in many innocent looking objects, like toys, radios, clocks, speakers, smoke alarms, even Ganeshas. Some of them come with night vision and are powered by mains adaptor or battery. An audio facility is available on most covert cameras, which picks up speech up to 20 feet away.

With a mobile receiver for pocket PCs designed for Windows, with a spycam, you can access and look around your home, or control home automation devices and more when on the move.

Some spycams are wired to a TV or a closed circuit system (as in merchant establishments). These are not concealed and the wires are visible too. The more deadly spycams come with a wireless transmitter. Some manufacturers claim that their spycams can transmit the wireless signal to 1000 feet, through walls and obstructions. A snooper in an apartment a couple of blocks away could be looking into your bed room, if the room has been infected with one of those cute little bugs.

Many people are still wondering about the legal implications of using a spycam or an MMS camera phone. There is no clear legislation in this regard. In India, it becomes a crime under the IT Act, if the material is published. It is not clear if a person can be charged for snooping under the Act if the material is not transmitted.

Don't breathe easy, you voyeur! Laws on violation of privacy, defamation, Law of Tort, -- and if the victim is a female, outraging modesty -- all come into play, if you get caught with your pants down! In Malaysia, for example, the crime can be punished under the Multi-media Act, if the digital content is transmitted. Thus, wireless spycams immediately fall under its purview, while wired spy cameras escape the net, though the impact of both are the same. In the absence of precedents in this regard, there is little light thrown on the subject.

Dancewithshadows.com advises you to keep your hands off unwanted stuff. How about spying on the girl next door and have your photo published in the newspaper next morning showing the hawaldar dragging you out of the house in your pajamas? Won't help you impress her parents much, we are sure.






God save the Malayalee

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