Notes from a Hostile World: Everyone is packing without a permit. (Concealed recording devices.)

Not sure if Scott Ashjian used a smart phone recorder to capture his conversation with Sharron Angle. Maybe he went with more cloak-and-dagger technology, like the digital ball point pen recorder, available for $159 at websites that sell spy gear.

Doesn’t matter.  Surely his chest hairs were not snagged beneath adhesive tape and wires.

The moral of the Angle-Ashjian secret-recording debacle? Everyone is packing a concealed recording device, no permit necessary.

Next time you’re tempted to disparage your boss to the guy at the next desk, restrain yourself.  Most of your colleagues are armed with a device – let’s call it iRecord – that could make your snotty comment public. Wise these days to proceed with constant recognition that smart phones are recording devices, and their owners command technology once reserved to cops and the media.  Such fun. See ya in court.

Secret recordings are a handy new ordinary-guy privilege, useful for capturing snarky  service in retail stores,  promises in the dark, and dumb stuff other people shouldn’t have said. Possibly with serious purpose, like making sure you get your fair share of mom’s estate.

It worked for this man, who was sued by family members because he recorded a kitchen-table discussion that included his dying mother, who left no will. A judge found no fault with his recording, and said the gathering was a family meeting.  In essence, his recording was the modern-day equivalent of whipping out a yellow pad and a pen. (But far more compelling as evidence, one suspects.)

And so, employers, in your next come-to-Jesus meeting with an employee, you might want to inquire as to the location of his or her iPhone. If you’re really paranoid, ask to see the display indicating the record function is off.

Employees, on the other hand, might feel justified recording such a meeting. With permission of course.  Tell the boss it’s not much different than requesting a copy of your paper personnel file on your way out the door. Which, you assume, would contain a paper record of today’s discussion.

And don’t forget the video cams. The pervs were early adopters, placing cameras on their shoes more than a decade ago for upskirt shots to post on their pervy websites.  Beware the guy who stands too close in the supermarket line.

But surreptitious video is not exclusively the province of strangers. Ask the woman who discovered a tiny video camera on her bedroom bookshelf, planted inside a copy of “Chicken Soup for the Soul.”  (Is nothing sacred?) It was her brother-in-law, with access to her bedroom, who installed the cam, which captured her and her boyfriend in “various states of undress.”

More serious stories have originated with laptop cams.  How about the school district that decided to track the school-issued laptops by remotely activating the cameras, which produced photos of the places the laptops were sitting?  Student bedrooms, for instance, at all hours of the day and night. Taxpayers in the district are facing a tab of more than a million dollars for digital forensics and legal fees.

And in recent headlines, poor Tyler Clementi became 2010’s most famous Rutgers freshman, God rest his soul, when his roommate turned on the laptop cam and invited a list of chat friends to watch Tyler’s sexual interaction with a male partner. Reports say this drove Tyler to suicide.

It’s not just high-stakes political races and government investigations that produce secret recordings.  If you are important enough to have “enemies,” and even if you aren’t, be paranoid.  Paranoia is healthier than ever. Paranoia is the new normal.

Sent from my laptop, which has a piece of black electrical tape over its camera lens.

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