Bye bye privacy: The world is watching

Published: November 3, 2013
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Markets flush with surveillance equipment; police complain ordinary citizens have greater access to spy gadgets. ILLUSTRATION: TALHA AHMED KHAN

Markets flush with surveillance equipment; police complain ordinary citizens have greater access to spy gadgets. ILLUSTRATION: TALHA AHMED KHAN

ISLAMABAD: 

Silicon chips used in computers and various electronic devices have shrunk with astonishing speed over the past couple of decades. From slower devices spread over an area equivalent to a small living room, we have moved to faster ones less than a centimetre thick.

This decrease in size, though highly beneficial to professionals and students, has side effects as well. The size of surveillance gadgets has also shrunk, and though this might be good news for law enforcement agencies, their abundant availability in the open market is alarming.

“The sale of hidden cameras has increased manifolds in the last six months,” said Rashid, a shopkeeper in a bustling Rawalpindi market who said law-enforcement agencies have no checks in place to monitor or regulate their sale.

When Rashid says hidden, he means it. Rechargeable cameras capable of recording for several hours have been placed in things as small as tie-pins, key rings, cigarette lighters, coat buttons and pens and can be bought for as little as Rs1,000.

The spike in camera-equipped cell phone ownership also has drawbacks.

The recent Kohistan video incident proves things can go drastically wrong when seemingly innocent videos are uploaded to the internet. The fallout when videos are less innocent can be even worse.

In 2004, the owner of a dubious internet cafe in Rawalpindi installed cameras in the ceiling lights of cabins and recorded compromising videos of young men and women who patronised the establishment.

These videos were later used to blackmail the couples, while the compiled CDs were sent to Dubai, where they were sold for
about $100,000, according to reports published in 2004. Copies were also sold in Britain, US, France and Germany before finally making their way back home, where a gang got hold of them and tracked down the victims’ families.

Three of the girls involved in the scandal allegedly committed suicide, one was apparently killed by her father, and two got divorced. Meanwhile, the boys — some of whom belonged to prominent families — ran away from their homes.

Since then, social websites have grown into activity-sharing hubs that cater to billions each day and hidden cameras have evolved into plug-and-play USB devices — a dangerous combination. Police officials of various police stations said they regularly receive complaints of blackmailing through videos recorded using hidden cameras in the twin cities.

Some insist the country’s dire security situation demands private use of surveillance equipment at homes and offices, although from government-certified vendors.

“The government should urgently draft policies to regulate the open sale of surveillance equipment. The purpose and parameters of their use needs to be checked,” said Digital Rights Foundation Pakistan Director Nighat Dad. She said

to check the abuse of spy equipment, laws are needed to monitor their misuse. Interestingly, despite the presence of the much-criticised Fair Trial Act 2012 that authorises the government to intercept private communications in order to track suspected terrorists, law enforcement agencies have yet to be provided with the necessary gadgetry. Yet, a worrying number of ordinary citizens carry the 007-ish tools with them, leaving police officials annoyed by the government’s failure to adequately equip them.

“These spying devices should be in possession of the police and investigation agencies, but despite several announcements by higher officials, the police department has yet to be equipped,” said a Rawalpindi police officer requesting anonymity.

In the meanwhile, always remember to assume everything online — no matter how secure — can be accessed by the public, and then, the world is watching you.

Published in The Express Tribune, November 3rd, 2013.

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Reader Comments (7)

  • Syed A. Mateen
    Nov 3, 2013 - 11:21AM

    A large number of Pakistanis whether Males or Females are born characters similar to tur James Bond 007 character.

    They try to peep into other affairs, personal lives of others and in each and every matter, but the main problem is that despite their ability of being private secret service agents or special agents who are deputed on performing special tasks, they do not investigate and try to find out as who is living next door to him/her and what he is upto?

    These private secret service type of special agents can help a lot to the Government and law enforcing agencies in pointing out the bad guys, who are playing with the lives innocent people of Pakistan and have caused death and destruction at each and every nook and corner of Pakistan.

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  • islooboy
    Nov 3, 2013 - 1:43PM

    @Syed A. Mateen:
    only stupid people are easily spied on

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  • guest
    Nov 3, 2013 - 2:08PM

    Regulations should be made to somehow curb the increasing culture of partying and against indecent incidents which happen with both male and female consent or in case of legal couples DON’T GO TO SUCH PLACES. Make people more aware about these scandals and the shame it can bring to their families.
    Simultaneously laws should be made to bring such people to justice who make such hidden videos so that innocent persons going through normal life keep safe in public places etc.

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  • Selvam
    Nov 3, 2013 - 2:11PM

    When are these spy cams going to be secretly installed in all Madrassas? Those seem to be the places with the most (minor) fe/male rape cases going on.

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  • Zubair Khan
    Nov 3, 2013 - 2:28PM

    Again a social and societal problem indicating mind set full of dirt and filth. Unless ethical values will not develop from the root level no measure can stop such trends. A massive effort is required to reform the Pakistani society. Those on helm of affairs have different priorities. Thanks to media which keeps on jolting the society for such issues.

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  • SK
    Nov 4, 2013 - 5:25AM

    The acquisition of survellience technology must be regulated. Those buying the technology for the security of their businesses should be bound by law not to use the same for nefarious purposes. The problem with internat cafe is that most businesses provide a secluded cabins to promote vice. There should be a sign warning patrons against lewd acts by cautioning them against survellience cameras. Not many cafe operators would do this, as many connected with underworld thrive on making such lewd videos of unsuspecting couples. And those caught making unlawful use of survellience equipment a should be imprisoned and fined substantially.

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  • Yaseen Amir
    Nov 4, 2013 - 3:52PM

    fail to understand the average users fascination with privacy…

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