[FOUNTAIN]Privacy threat in a shirt pocket

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[FOUNTAIN]Privacy threat in a shirt pocket

"This is the evening news for October 8, 2007. Today, corruption among President Lee Mong-hyun's relatives was disclosed. A political activist, Choi Tae-eop, played for reporters an audio and videotape containing evidence that supported allegations that family members and relatives of the president were involved in influence-peddling.

"Mr. Choi said, 'It was possible because of this,' to reporters, while showing them a voice pen, a digital recorder shaped like a fountain pen."

That may just be imagination for the time being, but it does seem likely that if new corruption scandals are revealed, voice pens will play a role. The gadget has shown its usefulness during several major corruption scandals recently.

In one example that put one of President Kim Dae-jung's sons behind bars, Choi Gyu-seon, the central figure in the scandal, often carried a voice pen recorder when meeting influential government officials or political figures.

The machine was first introduced in Seoul in 1998. Several domestic companies began to produce them after they began selling well in Japan.

At first, the major market for the voice pen was among reporters and police officers, but the general public began to look at the recorders for language studies and other uses.

The core technology of this recorder is a memory flash chip that saves the recorded data even after the power is switched off. There are no tapes to change, which is handy in recording conversations secretly.

Voice pens these days accompany digital cameras and phone conversation recording systems.

The industry estimates that 1 million voice pens have been sold, which means 1 out of every 10 families has one. This year alone, sales are projected to be 300,000 to 400,000 units. With that kind of market penetration, it is not difficult to imagine how serious the side effects of secret recording could become in our society.

A Canadian political scientist, Reg Whitaker, wrote that in this information age, there will no longer be any privacy, and warned of the danger of systems that monitor communications, such as the infamous Echelon system.

But is it such massive and expensive technology that is the main threat to our privacy? With a miniature recorder that anyone can afford, we could be monitored like a fish in a tank or a gladiator in an arena.

Oops ?not so loud! The person in front of us could be waiting to record my voice.



The writer is a deputy city news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Lee Kyu-youn

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