In the backstreets of Istanbul’s Tahtakale neighborhood, a bazaar district filled with shops selling cheap cell phones and computer accessories, street vendors have for years been making a living selling counterfeit prescription drugs, Viagra in particular. In recent months, though, these sellers have added some new products to their regular lineup: cheap Chinese-made listening devices that let the user eavesdrop on conversations in another room, and miniature video cameras dressed up as pens that let the average person play detective.
“Everyone is buying these products – family types, businessmen,” says one of the vendors, who would only give his name as Mustafa. “People want to know what other people are doing.”
The issue of tapping and surveillance is certainly in the air these days in Turkey. In early May, a hidden-camera video that was posted on the website of an Islamist newspaper was used to topple Deniz Baykal. He resigned as leader of Turkey’s main opposition party, the secularist Republican People’s Party (CHP), shortly after the footage was leaked.
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Yigal Schleifer is a freelance journalist based in Istanbul. He is the editor of EurasiaNet's Kababistan blog.