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Canadian airport to bug travelers' conversations

Ottawa airport installs microphones that are intended to, quite simply, bug private conversations between travelers. Might this be slightly intrusive? Or just plain creepy?

Screenshot by Chris Matyszczyk/CNET

Some friends of mine recently bumped into a member of the Canadian Secret Service. He said he spent most of his time gardening because Canada doesn't really have enemies.

Perhaps the northern sister of the U.S. has decided to give its security forces a little more to do, as Ottawa airport will now be graced with bugging microphones.

No, these aren't necessarily being strategically placed where suspicious people might gather -- wherever that might be. And yes, they will be capable of recording conversations between any travelers (or airport employees) who happen to fall within their range.

The Ottawa Citizen reports that the Canadian Border Services Agency quite happily admits that the audio technology is already in place.

Its representative told the Ottawa Citizen: "It is important to note that even though audio technology is installed, no audio is recorded at this time. It will become functional at a later date."

I am sure that travelers to Canada's capital will feel reassured, especially as the CBSA will reportedly post notices warning people that they might be listening in to their chats about, say, future secret plans for BlackBerry or past torrid nights with a very nice boy called Pierre.

Imagine that you might accidentally hold a very interesting dialogue -- perhaps even with yourself, which certainly happens to me when a flight is delayed -- and you don't notice until afterward that there's a notice perched behind you warning you that bugs are operating here.

Please don't be afraid. For there will reportedly be a helpline that will explain how the recordings will be used, stored, and, gosh, retained.

The CBSA also revealed that the bugs are already operating at other, as yet undisclosed, airports and border points of entry.

This, sadly, may well be the crux of the matter. It may well be that in many countries of the world, you're already being bugged in all sorts of places you might not imagine -- or even Rupert Murdoch might not imagine.

If you happen to find out, perhaps they'll tell you they're only looking for the bad guys. If they tell you anything at all.

And yet, with just one overheard, misunderstood conversation, perhaps you could turn out to be one of the bad guys in the eyes of the listeners.

Many were saddened and appalled on watching the movie "The Lives Of Others," which showed just how intimately the Stasi monitored people.

Yet here it does seem as if the recording could well be extensive and entirely random. That's the odd thing about powerful organizations -- whether corporate or governmental -- who happen to possess powerful technological means: we're told to trust them. Because what else are we going to do?

There's a joyous by-product, though, to all this apparent snooping. Just imagine a silent airport. No one speaks, because no one dares. Mightn't that present something of a soothing atmosphere to counter traveling's many pains?

Yes, imagine if every airport were like a Trappist monastery. Weird, but maybe very spiritual.