Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Talking in Public

Tiny wireless spy mic. You can hide a tiny wireless mic like this one anywhere. Photo source: eBay

I have already mentioned that it isn’t safe to talk in public places. The din doesn’t provide the privacy you would expect. But this week, I heard two other distressing stories that pierce the veil when it comes to expectations of privacy in public places.

  • A waiter we met this weekend was dressed down for a quiet exchange between himself, his mother, and his betrothed. When he asked his manager if it had bothered one of the other customers enough to tell on him, his manager told him that they bugged all the tables with mics and web cams.
  • Another friend told Suna and me of a time when she went out to eat with some other friends. Because they were a little older, their waitress was condescending. She spoke to them as if they were already senile. They tipped well out of pity, thinking she probably wouldn’t get much in the way of tips with that attitude. The next time they went to this restaurant, the manager collected their payment and said, “I hope your experience here was much more pleasant than last time.” Mind you, they hadn’t complained about the previous waitress.

The second of these stories shows a benign reason why a restaurant might spy on its customers. That manager seemed to genuinely hope for a better customer experience. And while the same might hold true for the first restaurant, a more sinister motivation is equally as likely. This is a capitol city, full of politicians and lobbyists. What kind of influence can be garnered by taping a “private conversation,” especially one that lapses into topics that some might not want to become public?

Since neither of these restaurants warned their customers of their eavesdropping, I suggest you start asking the managers before you are seated if your table is bugged. One friend has started carrying noise generators to prevent such eavesdropping. I hope the noise is painful to those wearing headphones.

The surveillance state is here.

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