HIGHTOWER: The Chef's Surprise

It's the paranoid's worst fear: They really are watching you.We've learned in recent years that privacy is passŽ in practically every aspect of our lives as corporate and governmental snoops track our movements at work, in schools, walking down the street, browsing on the internet . . . and now, even while we eat.The New York Times reports that some of the city's finest restaurants have installed cameras to monitor your meal. You wouldn't notice, unless you happened to look up at the ceiling, where a small camera lens is peering down at you, conveying the image back to a screen in the kitchen. New digital surveillance cameras provide remarkably clear pictures of your dining habits, and they have zoom lenses that can capture such up-close details as what you're writing on a check. They also allow "remote access," meaning a chef away from the restaurant can tune into the dining room through a computer . . . and watch you eating.The rationale is that these peek-a-boo systems allow chefs to know when you're finishing your appetizer so the entree can arrive right on time. But, the cameras also pick-up your intimacies, including if you and your date get a little smoochy, providing voyeuristic fun for the kitchen staff. Also, if the chef can catch the action on-line, so can any 12-year old computer whiz who wants to take a peek around the tables.In addition to the cameras, the Times reports that more and more restaurants are building personal profiles on their customers, compiling databases that include your phone number, address, profession, eating preferences, how much you drink, etc., etc. Again, this nosy bit of data collection is done in the name of efficiency and meeting customer's desires -- but the bottom line is that your intimate dining experiences are being watched, recorded, stored, and used without your permission.This is Jim Hightower saying É This digital prying gives new meaning to the term "chef's surprise." The hell with efficiency -- give me some privacy!

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