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Friday, February 20, 2009

Smile, you're probably on hidden camera

It looks like any other teddy bear. But the cuddly toy conceals a surprising secret. Hidden in its right eye is a tiny wireless pinhole camera, designed to capture damning images of dishonest or abusive nannies.

The teddy-cam is a popular item at Spytech, a Toronto-based spy shop with stores in Ottawa and London, Ont. But it's also a symbol of how we're increasingly turning to surveillance to check up on one another.

Parents are embracing computer monitoring software and location-tracking devices to keep an eye on their teenagers. Shop owners are installing hidden cameras to catch dishonest clerks. Neighbours are spying on one another to counter vandalism. And spouses are hiring tech-savvy private investigators to get the goods on cheating partners.

Teddy Bear by you.

Don't Play-play ma... :)

Business at Ottawa's Triangle Investigations Agency — 90 per cent of which involves marital cases — is up 15 per cent in the past three or four years.

"Every time there's a downturn in the market, guys will go out and drink and find somebody's shoulder to cry on," says John Sullivan, the 28-year-old firm's general manager.

Shops similar to Spytech, which has been in business since 1991, are popping up online and in cities across Canada. According to Spytech's owner, Ursula Lebana, hidden cameras are the most popular item.

Spytech's store sells a camera a day on average, says clerk Cody Crosby. In addition to teddy bears, they come embedded in smoke detectors, wall and desk clocks, air purifiers, books, pagers and pens.

"Everything's just getting smaller and smaller," says Crosby.

Signals from wireless cameras tiny enough to peek through a buttonhole can travel up to 91 metres feet and pass through walls.

The smallest cameras measure just eight millimetres by eight millimetres.

Pinhole cameras are hot items with business owners who suspect employees of theft. When hidden over cash registers, the cameras catch thieves 100 per cent of the time, boasts Lebana. "There's always somebody stealing."

"There seem to be a lot of nasty neighbours lately," Lebana says. "We have at least one or two people a week who have serious problems — vandalizing the property, putting nails under the tires, death threats. They need to catch the person who's doing it."

One customer kept coming home from work to find her flower garden vandalized. She finally bought a camera and installed it in her window. The culprit was her next-door neighbour. "She was very disappointed," Lebana says. "She thought they had a good relationship."

Hidden cameras are a key part of Sullivan's arsenal at Triangle, as well.

When wives — it's usually wives — hire Triangle to find out if their husbands are unfaithful, investigators first identify the suspected philanderer by shooting video or pictures, usually en route to work.

"You wouldn't believe some of the people I've followed," Sullivan exclaims "A lot of them are public figures."

After work, they pick up their target again and tail him. If he goes into a bar, a different Triangle agent will follow because, says Sullivan, "the subject should never see the same agent twice."

In more than half the cases, the operative will engage the subject in conversation, he says. "Our agent may be your new best friend for the next few hours." A key moment comes when the subject meets his lover. "You have to be able to take the photograph or shoot that video without being observed," Sullivan says.

Triangle also uses GPS units to track subjects, especially if their assignment is out of town. Once they've hidden a unit in a subject's car — which is legal, Sullivan says, with the permission of an owner of the vehicle — they can follow his movements by computer. If you're supposed to be at a conference in Toronto, but the GPS says you're in Ogdensburg, N.Y., "chances are you're at the motel over the bridge," chortles Sullivan.

There are two types — one that allows you to track a car in real time, and another that will show everywhere it has been.

"A lot of parents like to pick that up," says Cody.

Indeed, spying on one's own children is a serious growth industry, driven by concern about online predators and risky or illegal behaviour teens disclose on social networking sites.

One website,, tells parents it's their responsibility to snoop on their children.

"For Internet safety," it asserts, "it's OK to spy on your kids!"

That appalls Valerie Steeves, a criminologist at the University of Ottawa. Spying on your kids "restructures parenting," she says, sending a message of distrust to teens.

Parents can also buy cellphones that can surreptitiously forward text messages and phone messages to parents so they can listen in.

"That so violates the trust between a parent and a child that it's not good parenting, it's bad parenting," Steeves insists.

Parents who want to keep tabs on their children's web activities can also install virtually invisible software that records keystrokes, screen shots and websites visited. One program, called eBlaster, can monitor a computer remotely and deliver reports to parents at work.

1 comment:

  1. haha.. takut jgak ni nak terima teddy bear lagi.. :)


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