At a conference room lunch the other day (not at Accenture), a small group was discussing immigration and the means by which various countries manage to integrate various ethnicities. We had representatives from several countries who, collectively, had quite diverse perspectives, particularly regarding the United States. It got kind of heated--you might even say it got kind of politically incorrect. I've become totally paranoid about this: I don't even trust "Mute" buttons anymore. Suddenly, the speaker phone piped up: "This meeting, and its recording, will end in 10 minutes." There was a pause. I said, "We're all fired."
I don't know how it happened--maybe the previous meeting's participants just hadn't hung up--but I do know that, for a few seconds, we all had identical pits in our stomachs. Then we reminded ourselves that no one ever listens to those recordings (right?). Separately, my wife recently got a call from a friend who said, "Your cell phone keeps calling me and I can hear everything you're saying." (My wife had been inadvertently leaning against it and thereby pressing her friend's speed dial number.) My wife and I quickly reviewed our recent conversation, searching for references to her friend, her friend's cats, our finances or the Corn Laws (1815-1846). Mercifully, none was found.
These little incidents illustrate an emerging hazard: the risk of being overheard (and possibly recorded) pretty much wherever you happen to be. The risks are very real: it's only a matter of time before our smart phones become so intelligent that a cracker can eavesdrop on you by hacking into yours and having it quietly call his. (Deep thought for the day: Intelligence and its handmaiden, complexity, are the cracker's friends.) Ditto that ultra-modern phone on your bedside table, whose hang-up is probably in software and hence subject to remote manipulation in a way that classic phones' purely mechanical switch hooks are not. Then there's the story about workstations shipped by a major manufacturer in the late 1980s: the ports for their microphones weren't secured, so anyone could connect to them over the Internet and monitor the politics being played out in offices around the world (not that anything like that could happen today). And of course your interlocutor could always be running the digital audio recorder built into his cell phone.
I've become totally paranoid about this situation: I don't even trust "Mute" buttons anymore. I've gotten into the habit of speaking very quietly (read my lips) whenever I want to say something that might offend someone not present. I know it's stupid, but I figure it'll save my precious posterior one of these days—if it hasn't already. I mean, it'd be disastrous if certain people found out how I really feel about the Corn Laws.