Spy Cams

Let's start with my own paranoia. It used to be the case that as foreign journalists based in Beijing, James and I knew we were being watched. There were cameras at the gate of the diplomatic compound where we were forced to live, and visitors had to sign in. We assumed our phones were bugged, and at times our phones behaved in classic 'bugged' ways, replaying bits of conversations to us that had been recorded earlier. Every time we went out, we were followed. We used to keep a list of car numberplates – about a dozen of them – that regularly followed us. On occasion we led them up and down and roundabout – you have to remember there were very few cars on the road in those days – and it was clear as day what they were doing. Now we're all thinking how nice it is that all that's stopped. But hang on a minute, there are closed circuit TV cameras EVERYWHERE – I know the UK has a reputaiton for being the most watched-over society in the world, but when was the last time China or North Korea published statistics on the number of cameras it has in its streets? I went for a walk in Ritan Park the other day and glanced up at a lampost only to say – oh yes, a camera watching me. Inside the churches – cameras. And anyone with a mobile phone is instantly trackable. I knew all this, but this story from the US, where the local school board issued computers to students then spied on them through the web cams made me even more alarmed – if this is what the school district does in Philadelphia you can bet your bottom dollar they're not the only ones.