There’s an interesting profession growing in South Korea that I, nor many other people outside of the country have really heard of who make use of simple hidden security cameras. Sarcasstically called the “paparazzi” in Korea, these people are self employed camera “bounty hunters” who make their living viddeotaping fellow citizens.
This sounds familiar, correct? Don’t we have these in the United States already?
In a way, but not quite the same way Korea does. As it turns out, the Korean government has always provided rewards to citizens who report or turn in such high profile criminal activities as North Korean spies – However, the Korean government has been rewarding reports (and proof) of petty crimes, even such simple criminal acts as throwing a cigarette on the ground.
Obviously these simple and small acts don’t fetch a very high price, but there’s a lot more you can turn someone in for. Industrial waste being spilled into a river or other natural, unsuitable environments. Illegal restaurants operating with unsanitary conditions. Emergency exits kept locked by a building owner. All of these can be reported to the government by one of these spies for a cash reward, and some people have even made this their full time job.
“Some people hate us,” said Mr. Im. “But we’re only doing what the law encourages.”
Mr. Im’s pet target is people who burn garbage at construction sites, a violation of environmental laws.
“I’m making three times what I made as an English tutor,” said Mr. Im, 39, who began his new line of work around seven years ago and says he makes about $85,000 a year.
Because the economic problems the entire world is currently facing hasn’t spared South Korea, this snitching for hire has become even more popular. Mr. Im, aside from being a simple worker in this system, also runs a very popular blog on the subject under an alias.
There are no reliable numbers of people who have taken up the work since governments at all levels have their own programs, but the phenomenon is large enough that it has spawned a new industry: schools set up to train aspiring paparazzi.
The outsourcing of law enforcement has also been something of a boon for local governments. Not only can they save money on hiring officers, but they say the fines imposed on offenders generally outstrip the rewards paid to informers. (The reward for reporting illegal garbage dumping: about $40. The fine: about 10 times as much.)
Although most of the people in the business don’t necessarily think what they do is bad, it can certainly carry a social stigma. The man who carries around a wireless spy camera in order to catch his fellow citizens committing the pettiest of crimes for a small reward is seen as especially untrustworthy, in South Korea more so than here even.
Bang Jae-won, 56, an eight-year veteran of the trade, said he felt proud of the times he caught people dumping garbage at a camping site or exposed marketing frauds, one of which once bankrupted him.
“I regret the early, desperate days when I reported the misdemeanors of people as poor as I was,” said Mr. Bang, who turned to this work after he was told he was too old by prospective employers.
“I don’t tell my neighbors what I do, because it might arouse unnecessary suspicions,” he said. “But, in general, I am not ashamed of my work. To those who call us snitches, I say, ‘Why don’t you obey the law?’ ”
Mr. Im doesn’t think that he’ll be quitting any time soon, but also cautions other people who are considering getting into the same line of work.
“People have a mistaken notion that to be successful, paparazzi must dress and act like spies and use super high-tech gear,” said Mr. Im, who runs a popular blog under his paparazzi alias, Song Mung-suk. “But what matters the most is to work and think hard.”
You might not need high tech hidden security cameras or spy cameras for home to do the job, but they can certainly help. Mr. Im happily reports that a simple digital camera with a video function works just as well as anything you could end up spending thousands on.