Spectator on emails and privacy

Ive yet to meet anyone who’s remotely surprised that every phonecall, email and internet transaction can be watched by governments all over the world. Or that neighbours spy on neighbours with CCTV. And I understand that, as a member of a democratic society, I should get more worked up about this.

Personally, I feel more sullied by store loyalty cards than by MI5. That supermarkets know when anyone in your family has a birthday, how much you drink, what soap you use and whether you dye your hair or buy beans from Peru is annoying. Yes, I had a passion for spreadable butter last year, but please stop sending me vouchers for it. It’s over.

Surveillance is, of course, essential in the fight against fraud. Although, weirdly, the bank didn’t notice when my elderly father’s inactive account had been raided by thieves who had a whale of a time in the Bluewater shopping centre before emptying the remaining funds at a fashion wholesaler near the Edgware Road. Given that the same bank froze my account when I bought a cappuccino in Italy last August, yet his account hadn’t been used in years, you’d think they might have noticed this unusual spending pattern.

As I do have a deep-rooted fear of being wrongly arrested (in a foreign country where I can’t speak the language-ongoing fallout from being traumatised by Mid-night Express in the 1970s), I should be more worried by all this snooping, but I’m too busy worrying about cyberspace with-out the spy bit. It always comes back to the basics: never put it in writing.

My sister had a virus on her computer last year that sent random emails from her ‘sent items’ to people whose Christian names were in the body of the text. It chose to send me the email in which she had detailed the filthy supper and undrinkable wine she had endured at our house. Being the sort of person she is, most of her emails were probably complimentary, but it’s appallingly easy to dash off an unflattering line and press send. I have not committed an unpleasant thought to email since. Until, a recent unfortunate slip, that is.

A protracted and slightly frustrating correspondence began when a customer, who had bought the word game Snatch from our website, sent me photographs, via email, of the lettered tiles that make up the game. These, she suggested, had not stood the test of time, being faded and scratched in appearance. Did I have any comment? I said I’d happily look into it.

Then, she told me she might not get messages for a while as she was sailing round the world on a yacht and had been for two years. Snatch and some playing cards were her only distractions. True, they might have had more than their fair share of saltwater, sunshine and humidity, but she didn’t think that was relevant.

I sent the photographs to the factory where the tiles are made. In due course, they sent me a long and detailed report having submerged the tiles in water, baked them in an oven, dropped them from great heights and so on-it was impressively comprehensive and I was thrilled to send on the results.

Shortly after, I received an email thanking me for the report, but making it clear it wasn’t enough. She was now going to contact everyone she knew who had ever bought a set of Snatch and ask for updates on the condition of their tiles. She would compile this information and send it back to me-at which point, I forwarded all this to my work colleague Catherine with the message ‘this woman takes my breath away’. Then, I took Alfie to school.

When I returned, this was in my inbox: ‘I assume, by “this woman” you mean me.’ I had, of course, pressed reply, not forward. I screamed, slammed the computer shut and ran around the kitchen.
A hard way to learn email in haste and repent at leisure. Really, being watched by Big Govern-ment is the least of my problems.

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