Parents hiring private eyes to spy on children overseas

From ‘More parents hiring private eyes to check on their kids’, 14 Oct 2013, article by Jalelah Abu Baker, ST

A GROWING number of parents are sending private investigators to check whether their children have gone astray, sometimes even overseas. Eight out of 10 private eye agencies contacted by The Straits Times said they have seen a rise in such cases.

Mr David Ng, 37, director of private investigation firm DP Quest, said his company has seen a 20 per cent year-on-year increase in such requests. “Parents get worried when they see changes in their children’s behaviour – for example, if they get a tattoo, or start staying out late,” he said, explaining the reasons his clients usually cite. The children are usually in their teens, in secondary school or polytechnic.

…For some parents, there is even more reason to track their children when they are studying overseas. Said Mr S.M. Jegan, 61, from private investigation firm Kokusai: “Parents send us overseas as they want to see how their children are spending their money, and whether they are in relationships.” Sometimes, parents get worried when their children become uncontactable or do not return to Singapore as planned.

Sending private investigators to countries like the United States and Britain is far more expensive – it can cost about $20,000 for five days of tracking.

Our boy just said YOLO to that girl on the phone. Is that code for SEX?

Why send a child overseas to study in the first place if you need to spend tens of thousands just to make sure he’s not having orgies and smoking pot in his hostel? Getting private detectives to spy on kids is at least a decade-old practice. In 2004, an agency called Covert Acquisition was hired to plant bugs on kids’ computers to track their activity in chatrooms. 5 years later, parents are hiring PIs to spy on their kids’ sex lives. Today, you can secretly download covert apps like Handphone Spy to read your children’s Whatsapp or Line messages, which seems like a last resort when your kid refuses to be your Facebook friend.  Even our government is keenly tracking Facebook users as we speak. The catch with apps like Handphone Spy is that physical access is required for installation, which means a parent needs to snoop and deceive in order to get their hands on their kid’s phone. The solution to busybodies tampering with your phone, of course, is to bring it EVERYWHERE you go. But then again, that’s already happening. Not just kids, but adults are all Candy Crushing while pooping.

Everything a PI does to intrude into your personal life seems to be within legal boundaries. According to the Kokusai FAQs, however, it is ‘illegal’ to ‘use software to spy SMSes or track the movement of a person’, but yet you can purchase mobile phone tracking apps or buy spy gizmos to tap into computer activity freely from Sim Lim Square. Apparently there are technically no ‘privacy laws’ in Singapore to speak of, and though companies like Handphone Spy advise against stalking suspicious spouses or ex-girlfriends because it’s deemed ‘an intrusion of privacy’, it seems perfectly OK to track your kid from the moment you pack his school lunch bag till he starts logging into the Internet after he comes home, because you’re ‘exercising your rights’ as a concerned parent. Even if it means drilling a tiny pinhole in your kid’s room to peep if he’s masturbating to porn instead of studying for the PSLE. Handphone Spy even endorses bosses rigging their employees’ phones because it ’empowers YOU to get the answers you want and deserve to have’. The perfect tool for the paranoid, the insecure, and the general dirty bastard.

Despite the technology available, there’s still a surging demand for professional stealth work by parents afraid of infringing privacy laws or who lack the time or IT savvy to DIY their own investigations. If I were a kid again I would rather my parents take the day off to track me instead of paying a hired gun to do the dirty job. Even if they fail miserably in their attempt to catch me in the act of having a life after school, I would appreciate their efforts for it, though I’d probably hate them for the rest of puberty. They’re just parents being parents, and before the Internet or cellphones they did stuff like search under your bed for secret diaries and girly mags. But when they need to pay a third party to nab me for trivial things, I’m likely to hate them for much longer for making me feel like a cheating mistress or an undercover loan shark runner. Especially when I’m doing NOTHING wrong.

Instead of sending PIs on an overseas espionage mission codenamed ‘Hostel Gangbang’, how about springing surprise ‘visits’ as a cover for spying? Or better still save the spy fees and instead send gifts, handwritten letters or up your cash allowance to make them feel guilty for drinking beer or smoking for the first time. And kids aren’t stupid either; the moment they suspect they’re being spied on, they’ll start installing anti-spyware-spyware, reading up websites on ‘signs that you’re being followed’ or better still, hire their own PIs to snitch out their parents’ PIs ala Spy vs Spy. Since most PIs are also ex-cops, you may also try dropping some Kripsy Kreme doughnuts here and there to throw your follower off the scent. I wonder if security companies offer counter-spy services at a discount rate under the table as well. Seems like a lucrative, perfectly legit business opportunity to me.

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