We're now espied far and wide

Last updated 05:00 03/12/2013

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Editorial: Sometimes what Big Brother's watching ends up being little brother-style misbehaviour.

That is not to diminish the invasiveness of the drunken teens caught by a security camera leering up at a vacant Crown Range holiday home.

The aggrieved owner's description of their juvenile conduct as "arrogant" is about right - it included gallivanting in the spa, drinking, smashing bottles and personally watering pot-plants without having received a Burt Munro-style invitation to do so.

They took trouble to cover their tracks afterwards but apparently did so with with the lack of thoroughness for which teenage attempts at cleaning have long been renown. Overlooked broken bottles in the yard drew the attentions of the caretaker and led him to consult the security cameras.

When police were called in to study the footage they found, with something almost endearingly close to inevitability, that some clown had posted footage of the cavortings on Facebook.

There was a time when "helping police with their inquiries" was a code for getting grilled in a formal interview. Nowadays that phrase could equally describe something far more inadvertent - countless cases of young people sitting down to share with their Facebook friends (and potentially so many other people) footage and accounts of illegal hi-jinks.

This latest report comes just days after three teenage burglars were pinged by what we reported as "an internet-savvy police officer" Rowan Williams, who tracked them down through stolen credit cards they had used for internet gaming. They had gone to the trouble of using a large number of passwords and user names, but still left their footprint on proceedings.

Private citizens are also becoming increasingly pro-active posting footage online. Sometimes, as with the Christchurch man who in August posted footage of taggers, the hope is to identify the culprits with an eye to prosecution.

Other times the aim is merely to hold people socially accountable, as was the case with the Invercargill taxi driver who in July posted the unlovely racial tirade of a passenger, and in so doing turned an unsavoury incident into a substantial nationwide news story.

The use of helmet cameras by cyclists and motorcyclists has also generated not only stories based on what they have filmed, but also a wider debate on whether the practice of wearing those cameras is fuelling tensions on the roads.

Even the people we most like to think of as the real pros are finding that sometimes they can be caught out, Nixon-style, by their own filmic efforts, such as the unedited footage showing New Zealand soldiers in a fatal Afghan firefight which found its way on to the internet.

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Should something embarrassing happen to us in public, there's every chance someone nearby could whip out an iPhone and have it posted online in no time flat.

Our homes are now photographed from the street and the sky. Our travelling whereabouts are traceable, with increasing precision, when we use our phones and access our money.

As for governments - our own as well as others - their capacity to gain information on us, and each other, has increased hugely, if just a little more quickly than their capacity to protect the information from eventually spilling out into the public.

All of which is laden with a host of implications one of the smallest of which (though clearly it doesn't go without saying) is that things have now reached the stage where you can't even have a not-so-quiet moment in someone else's spa without being snooped upon.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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