Taking TRIAL out of Trial Rooms

By : |April 6, 2015 0
Image courtesy of adamr at freedigitalphotos.net
How do you know if there’s a spy-eye watching you when you are out shopping or at a hotel on vacation? You don’t, but you can spy back. Here’s how

Pratima H

INDIA: Gone are the days when the only worry you had while trying out a new outfit was about its size and sartorial fit. Vanished from memory are also days of those travel trips where the only reason for a gnawing headache was the ordeal of packing a well-loaded suitcase with ease.

These are those days when you can’t step inside a mall, an haute couture store or a luxurious hotel room without chewing your nails all the time and second-guessing the presence of hidden eyes and ears behind every curtain.

Incidents like the recent crackdown at a trial room in Goa only remind us sadly that it doesn’t really matter how well-label-ed a certain place is – there is no minute, no place where you can indulge a happy oblivion to the possibility of cameras around. So many incidents keep popping every now and then, thus, establishing the growing incidence of mala-fide cameras around a normal citizen.

Cameras and specially those reptile species that can be mounted anywhere, can slither in at every high perch or tiptoe themselves inside almost every crevice; have become another quintessential example of why technology can be a boon and bane at the same time.

On one hand, there is no discounting the role that CCTVs have started playing all around us and ensuring safety, (if not on prevention then at least by propping a strong investigation) at banks, airports, ATMs, offices, public places, traffic signals and almost every other place you usually haunt every day.

On the other hand, the extreme sophistication of these very lenses has made them amenable to be planted discreetly for wrong intentions and ulterior reasons.

No we are not talking about some James Bond modus operandi or about a big political or corporate espionage feat. We are talking about things that possibly lurk or can easily ambush us in that dry, mundane, everyday life.

The ultimate question is – how can you fight or defend yourself from sophisticated targeting when you are just a common citizen and not some tech-wonk or camera-wizard?

You can. At least to a reasonable extent and this is not some hollow pep-talk.

What better way to get some ideas for equipping yourself in this multi-retina world than asking the spies themselves? Not the bad guys but people whose daily job revolves around helping people pull information most critical to their jobs, relationships and money-matters. They do it by spying prudently and eavesdropping deftly, so they are in a good position to tell us the view, as it appears, from the other side.

Layman’s Job?

Whenever any camera is plugged anywhere, chances are slim that it is surviving on a battery, which is hardly a three-to-four hour boot. So any camera has a strong probability of having a good cable route and back-up for power and storage, for that is, after all, their final raison-d’etre.

That’s why Naman Jain, an award-winning brain, advises to look sharply for any sign of a cabling going or coming unnecessarily, when you embark upon a trial room. “Do not use a trial room where objects are pointed at you. It could be a harmless-looking hangar, a showpiece, a fan. Ask yourself – is it really required in here? And you would raise the right answer or question.”

Jain is MD at an intriguing investigation services firm, Sleuths India and this sharp-eyed hawkshaw tells that an object is often crucial whenever a spy-camera is to be attached anywhere. “A camera has to go inside an object, which can be anything. You cannot miraculously put just the camera without a cover-skin and that is the exact place that should trigger a doubt for innocent people when they want to be alert and safe. Look for the object.”

Watching for an idle room-freshener bottle, an odd smoke-detector or a CCTV mounting could be enough for raising an eyebrow, even if it consumes that extra minute during your already time-crunched shopping spree. Like Jain assures, there is so much that is easily spotted and not hard for the naked eye to catch too.

Rajani Pandit, a well-known pioneer of females in the profession of private espionage reinforces the same suggestion. Being alert is the best defense. There is hardly a reason that you cannot see a lens-like thing, even if it has no beep or lighting indication, if you look closely enough.

The same reconnaissance can be applied while checking in a hotel room too, but the dynamics and mise-en-scene is large and different here. “Check out photo-frames, paintings, statues, bathroom shower equipment carefully. Keep a sharp eye and chances are you may spot  something wrong somewhere, if it is so.”

Jain opines that a hotel-room check usually would need an expert and also at least one or two hours to be adequate and assured. Usually, it’s best to use a credible and well-known hotel chain and trust them. But again, cameras need to be camouflaged in a dark background so TV panels, black or dark-hued showpieces are good suspicion spots to check once.”

Tech for the Spy, For the Spy-enemy 

Turns out that there are enough tools and techniques in the market for someone who can take the extra effort and may be spend an extra penny on heaving a sure-shot sigh of relief. Debuggers, frisking machines for metal, mobile apps and more are helping people to be on the watch when it comes to evading an unsolicited eye.

Jain talks about mobile apps, cautioning that they may not be 100 per cent accurate. “Debuggers are easily available in local spy markets or shops like a Palika Bazaar in New Delhi or a Heera Panna market in Mumbai. They cost anywhere between Rs.800 to 1000.”

Pandit, who has reportedly handled over 2000 cases and won a dozen awards, also mentions deactivation apps and devices that can conk off a network and thus save a person from being spied. These may not exactly be grocery-store stuff when you think of availability but then Internet, as she rightly wonders, is bringing a lot of things to doorsteps with growing clout of e-commerce and online networks.

As to the perception that a mobile call-check would help in detecting a camera piece because of frequency or waves, Jain shrugs that idea off. “Do you face any interruption or echo when you work at office or make calls from any public place with a CCTV network? A mobile can create disturbance in landline calls but not with other devices.”

In fact, as technology evolves, its connotation for personal and personalised safety may change sooner than we think. Ambient intelligence is gaining ground as time passes and ABI Research forecasted this February that it will become the major evolution in technology-based consumer services and quality of life applications over the next 10 years.

Ambient intelligence, which is the ability of a system to appreciate its environment, be aware of the user (and other people / objects) within that environment and most importantly, interpret and respond to their needs, unprompted; is also the unification of hot new areas such as neural networks, big data, IoT, connected home, wearables, device user interfaces, and new location technologies such as BLE beacons, LED / VLC, sensor / data fusion, LTE-direct, Wi-Fi 2.0, etc are enabling the shift as an ABI researcher pointed in this prognosis.

The applications on the consumer side, could trigger a big drive on next generation search and evolved personal assistant applications that can predict the needs of their users and make changes / recommendations to facilitate these needs.

Just from an application point of view, ABI Research has forecasted over eight billion ambient intelligence related application downloads in 2020, primarily focused on personal assistant, social, health / fitness, augmented reality, and local search / discovery applications.

Location-based ambient intelligence for consumer-applications – Would that mean a new, well-endowed kit for personal safety too? Who knows!

Is that all?

Using your index finger to check the mirror in the room, being extra-wary of odd objects around, and squinting your eyes for that hidden lens – these are usually enough precautions to start with.

Nothing replaces the power of swift reflexes and being alert, Pandit strongly iterates. “If you have the ability to anticipate a difficult situation well ahead of time and make quick decisions, you can be safe. Be alert, whether it is a harmless-looking trial room or a hotel room.”

‘A detective is born, not made. Intelligence is what a person cannot get by learning, but by life. No great teacher can teach you to think smart, act accordingly and solve the case. Decision making as per the circumstance is very essential in the making of a detective,’ as Pandit, who has written two books on the subject, asserts in her general introductions well too.

Jain, who was awarded the ‘Young Investigation Entrepreneur Award by then President of India, and runs an impressive team of intelligence bureau officers, including retired colonel and ex-army-men, too places heavy emphasis on being vigilant.

And if ‘vigilance’ is a word coming out poignantly from the recipe-book of expert vigilantes, maybe that’s one thing that technology can still not replace, no matter which side of the camera you are.

Time to change into an alert-skin then? It fits anyone well. Try it.

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