Surveillance show scary in more than one way

America Undercover: Surveillance ... No Place to Hide HBO/pay cable, Tues., 10-11 p.m.; repeated Nov. 10, 13, 19, 23, check listings. Narrator: Paul Charles. Producer/director, Joseph Angier. Executive producer, Malcolm Clarke. HBO wants America to know ``they'' are watching you. Who? Well, according to ``No Place to Hide'' just about everybody is using electronic surveillance devices to watch or listen to everybody else.

This is a paranoid film for a paranoid society. It is also an ambivalent film, managing to be both truthful and phony, serious and laughable, unnecessarily alarmist and yet truly frightening.

The pros and cons of polygraph testing, infrared camera spying from police helicopters, phone tapping, credit ratings, and ``ham'' radio intercepting are given a once-over-lightly, complete with dramatic music and melodramatic images like jail gates clanging shut.

How much can the viewer believe? Well, certainly some of it, because it has become apparent that we are living in an age of electronic surveillance. But ``info-tainment'' documentaries like this make me want to check my wallet to make sure I haven't been swindled.

Of course, program comes with some explicit warnings: At the start, viewers are alerted that ``due to the sensitive and often dangerous nature of the work done by some of the people, they asked that their identities be protected and likenesses obscured.'' Okay, maybe.

But, then, too, viewers are told: ``Certain scenes are composited or re-created to depict as accurately as possible eyewitness accounts or actual events where the presence of the filmmaker would constitute a violation of law.'' Hmmm.

So, how are we to tell what is real and what is dramatized, since there is no such labeling on the scenes shown? ``No Place to Hide'' is a hokey, scary film about a trend that should make all of us feel wary and uneasy. Unfortunately, this film's own approach makes me feel just as wary and uneasy.

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