It used to be that the only people worth spying on were world leaders, scientists experimenting with ways to blow up the planet, or, most frequently, Hollywood stars who were having affairs with other Hollywood stars. But now that some video cameras have shrunk to the size of a sesame seed, and sophisticated surveillance technology comes bundled with your breakfast cereal, it has become possible to spy on everyone. In fact surveillance has become so commonplace that the average New Yorker now spends more time on camera every day than Katie Couric or Tom Brokaw do.
But what if you don’t want Big Brother snooping around your life, anymore than you wanted little brother in your closet when you were 16 and talking on the phone to your girlfriend? Is there some way to grab the Big Creep by his ear and remove him in such a way that he won’t bother you again, but will also not run and try to get you in trouble with Big Mom and Big Dad? Here are some of the newest spy techniques that are being used to monitor you, and ways that you might foil them:
In New York City alone, there are over 2,400 cameras filming public space, including cameras on buildings, ATMs, traffic lights, and even restrooms. And as one expert said, “The demonstrated tendency of Closed Circuit Television operators to single out ethnic minorities for observation and to voyeuristically focus on women’s breasts and buttocks provides ample reason to avoid public surveillance cameras.” The same expert also noted the proliferation of spy-cam websites, and increasing commercial incentives for distributing closed circuit video footage to reality-based media shows like Cops and America’s Funniest Home Videos.
To foil: A new internet service called iSee was created (appliedautonomy.com/isee/). It’s kind of like Mapquest for those of us who are weirded out by the feeling of being watched constantly. The service guides people through Manhattan along routes with the fewest surveillance cameras. Of course, if you enjoy being watched, or simply want to moon the greatest number of security technicians, you can map out a path that will maximize your exposure, and increase the chances of your appearance on nationally syndicated reruns.
Spy technique: In Japan researchers at Tokyo University recently unveiled the world’s first electronically-guided cockroach. The cockroach, surgically implanted with a micro-robotic backpack that allows researchers to control its movements, is known as Robo-roach. Within a few years, similarly controlled insects carrying mini-cameras or other sensory devices could be slipping under doors for espionage.
To foil: Create your own army of radio controlled cockroaches to patrol your home, on the lookout for enemy spies. They should probably be equipped with tiny little laser guns (or spray cans of Raid) to destroy the enemy. Instead of a missile shield to protect us from nuclear weapons, the CIA will undoubtedly soon demand billions of dollars to train and equip a force of millions of roaches to protect us from enemy spies. In addition, an army of trainers will be needed, to control and maneuver the roaches in their mission of protecting and defending our most vital secrets, while seeking out the tastiest morsels of garbage. Both the men and roaches will probably be recruited from the same poor urban neighborhoods.
Spy technique: Cameras and other electronic monitoring devices so tiny they can be secretly dropped into a milkshake, so that you will swallow them. This will allow detailed tracking of your most personal health data, for purposes such as deciding whether you are a good candidate for life insurance or a new job.
To foil: Milk of Magnesia, or bean burritos from Taco Loco.
Spy technique: Thermal imaging satellite cameras, that allow the military to track the movements of troops even in the dark.
To foil: A potential 21st century food being developed for military use by a team headed by Purdue University’s Michael Ladisch, a professor of agriculture and biological engineering. The new food, a seemingly ordinary chocolate bar, contains special nutrients to change body temperature, thus making soldiers not only warmer in cold climates but also rendering them “invisible” to an enemy’s thermal-imaging equipment. Researchers are still working to solve the problems of side-effects, which included spontaneous combustion of chocoholic lab rats.
Spy technique: A television that can watch you far more carefully than you watch it. Microsoft recently announced it will be using Predictive Networks’ technology to track the viewing habits of people who use Microsoft TV interactive products. Some potential users are concerned over the prospect of being observed by their household appliances, and said they would not knowingly purchase a product that tracked their entertainment preferences. “I don’t want my TV taking notes on what I’m watching. I don’t want my kid’s game console tracking what he’s playing. I don’t want my CD player collecting data on my music collection,” said Kelley Consco, who was shopping for holiday gifts at Radio Shack. “It’s just too creepy.”
To foil: Have a sophisticated device like TIVO tape hours and hours of programming for you to watch at your leisure, zipping through commercials and anything else not worth your time. Then Microsoft, and spies like it, will never know what you’re watching, and it won’t matter anyway because the truth is you don’t have time to watch your TIVO anymore than you have time to watch your TV. Your TIVO will be stacked up with hundreds of hours of unwatched video in the same way that your living room is stacked up with hundreds of unread newspapers, magazines, and books, that you are saving for when you have the time. All these predictive, interactive spy technologies are doing is recording what we users think we’d like to watch and read, but not what we’re actually spending our time doing, which is fixing the toilet that just overflowed, and running out to the drug store for medicine for the kid who’s got a fever of 104, and answering unsolicited phone calls from people wanting us to refinance our houses, while trying to squeeze in time to maybe cook and eat something for dinner. Then finally collapsing in our beds. (Right. Not much interesting surveillance available in the bedroom, either).