For 10 years, Lee's company, Singa Takara Enterprises, struggled to turn a profit selling custom-made spook equipment to clients such as the Iranian secret police. Then, in December, one of Taiwan's tabloid magazines whipped up a scandal by distributing free copies of an X-rated video purported to be of former Taipei politician Chu Mei-feng as she entertained somebody else's husband. The couple was secretly filmed with a thumbnail-sized camera hidden in a bedroom. Since the incident, which became an Internet sensation, Lee can't keep his shelves stocked—and Taiwan is gripped with hidden-camera hysteria.
No one knows how many jealous spouses, paranoid business managers and run-of-the-mill perverts have rushed out to buy their own snooping devices. Miniaturization technology and cheaper electronics have enabled thousands of Taiwanese to become amateur Big Brothers, surreptitiously videotaping employees, friends and total strangers without regard for privacy or propriety. Shopowners retailing tiny spy cameras (which cost between $30 and $400) say sales jumped tenfold after the Chu Mei-feng scandal. One of the hottest toys last Christmas was a Winnie the Pooh plush doll with cameras in its eye sockets.
Chu's ordeal (she denies the woman in the video is her) has left a lot of Taiwanese with the creepy feeling that the environment is crawling with electronic eyes. A recent survey found that more than 40% of Taiwanese women won't use public toilets because they fear hidden cameras; nearly all of these women say delaying micturition has resulted in urinary tract infections. To ease concern, some police departments have been ordered to conduct twice-weekly sweeps of restrooms. Authorities have been flooded with so many phone calls from people convinced they are being taped that the government is holding "how-to" seminars on the de-bugging of homes and offices. Taipei-based Gi Ya Company claims more than 100,000 customers have purchased a device that is supposed to detect radio waves emitted by spy cams equipped with wireless communication capabilities. The $30 appliance, marketed to women for personal protection, comes fitted with a whistle, a make-up mirror, and a stun gun.
Business is also booming for Lion Liu, who sells some 300 electronic-device detectors a month to gynecologists, hospitals, department stores and local police—in competition with Lee of Singa Takara Enterprises. Not to be outdone by Liu, Lee has been working overtime, networking with public officials, publicly deriding his rival's lack of competence and making the rounds of television talk shows.
Jawboning paid off when female lawmakers demanded that the legislature be scoured for cameras. Lee was hired for the job. Lugging a metal case full of spinning dials and blinking LCD read-outs, he waved a big antenna over every nook, cranny and toilet in the building. At a subsequent press conference Lee, alongside the speaker of Taiwan's legislature, pronounced the place safe for womankind. It was, he says, the crowning moment of his career.
His work should keep him busy. Surveillance cameras are proliferating everywhere. Police monitor high-crime areas. Business owners keep tabs on their workers. According to the China Daily, mainland China's English-language newspaper, spy cameras are a hit with consumers in Guangdong province, where spouses are tracking their mates and store owners watch out for shoplifters. After stumbling upon a Tokyo-based pornographic website showing photos of female passengers on Taipei subway trains, a Taipei city councilor recently fueled public paranoia by announcing that the transit system had been infiltrated by Japanese criminals carrying cameras disguised as briefcases.
And last week, a man who officials have dubbed the "big-footed pervert" was caught sticking his camera-equipped sneaker under women's skirts. "Do we have privacy anymore?" asks security expert Liu. "No. The only safe place is a place without light." Then again, there are always infrared hidden cameras.