The Spy Who Blogged Me – How we learned to stop worrying and love surveillance
By Hal Niedzviecki – It’s another busy afternoon at SpyTech. A young man discreetly inspects cameras hidden in teddy bears and clock radios. A chatty fellow wants to see miniature voice recorders, even though, as he loudly proclaims, he’s not planning on buying anything. A woman comes in with an elaborate rented apparatus that needs repairs; her dog chewed through a wire, putting an abrupt end to a student art project involving cameras affixed to pets.
Finally, Ursula Lebana, the owner of this midtown Toronto business, manages to break away from a customer on the phone who wants to buy a cellphone signal jammer. They are illegal in Canada, she tells him.
I ask Lebana how things have changed since she opened Canada’s first spy store back in 1991. “People who came into the store at that time were quite shocked,” she tells me. “They never realized cameras were that small. They said, ‘Oh my God, that’s scary. And isn’t it terrible to monitor the nanny? Where’s the trust?’” Sixteen years later, business is booming. “Now people say, ‘Oh, I want a hidden camera,’” says Lebana, who has since opened SpyTech locations in Ottawa and London, Ontario. “They are more willing to use them now. They’re more familiar with it. I’m even getting repeat customers: a girl came in, and she had her first baby, so now she’s monitoring the nanny like her father did sixteen years ago, which is nice.”
Cozy stories of intergenerational nanny monitoring aside, there are lots of ways to characterize the ongoing revolution in surveillance technologies and attitudes, and “nice” isn’t one of them. But on second thought, maybe Lebana is on to something. In the almost two decades SpyTech has been selling miniature cameras, micro-recorders, semen detection kits, and computer monitoring packages, we’ve gone from fearing Big Brother to wanting to be him. Where’s the trust? There isn’t any. But don’t worry. There’s a new world of ubiquitous, self-directed surveillance to make sure we all play nice.
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