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Norwegian brothel a hit on Web

A group of Norwegian hackers has trained a $75 Web cam on a brothel to prove how technology can invade privacy.

A group of Norwegian hackers has taken a $75 Web cam, focused it on a brothel, and broadcast it on the Net for anyone who had access to see.

It wasn't just an idle prank; the group actually had a point to make. And so far, thanks to international media reports about the Web cam, a lot of people have helped them do just that.

"We did it to make a point that, with a personal computer and a camera that will cost $75, you're able to do surveillance of what or whoever you like without their permission or knowledge," said Alfa, who asked not to be identified because, he said, the Yugoslavian mafia runs the bordello and is likely to resort to more than nasty email if they are angry.

But the risk seemed worth it to them.

Since TV reporter Stig Kolstad broadcast the story Tuesday on the Norwegian Broadcasting System, which has about 1 million viewers, the site has been flooded with people who want to take a peek a the comings and goings of the clientele.

The international media also has come calling. All are intrigued with both the camera and Alfa's message. In fact, Alfa said the site has been getting about 200,000 visits a day, causing three or four disk crashes that forced the group to go out and rent new servers.

But David Sobel, attorney for the Electronic Privacy and Information Center, said that in this case the stunt seems to be the electronic equivalent of standing outside the brothel and filming. The only difference is that the pictures are being broadcast to a lot of people.

Whatever laws would apply to someone filming in public would probably apply in this case. And, most likely, they'd be local laws.

"It's no different than if they were taking still pictures and publishing them in the Oslo newspaper," Sobel said. "The Internet doesn't change the equation that much."

But Alfa says he thinks that governments should start dealing with how the new technologies affect privacy rights.

"It's time that governments take the information technology revolution seriously and start to try to regulate it," Alfa said, adding hastily that the group is for "free information on the Internet."

"We're not taking a position," he said. "We're just raising the question." He added that the same kinds of questions that are asked of a cameraman focusing on a house of prostitution should be asked of police and others during surveillance.

Of the 700 emails the group has gotten about this, Alfa said, most applaud the group for simply raising the question.