YOU ARE not, of course, so foolish as to wander into a communist state posing as a tourist yet carrying industrial quantities of surveillance equipment. But even if your immediate travel plans do not include taking on Cuba's formidable security service, hi-tech luggage could land you in trouble elsewhere in the world.
Ten years ago the foundation of the USSR was celebrated for the last time. Yet even though capitalism has supplanted communism, and Marx has been replaced by Mercedes as an object of reverence, life in the former Soviet Union can still be uncomfortable for travellers - in particular anyone hoping to bring in a Global Positioning System receiver.
GPS technology may strike you as both harmless and handy; the system interprets signals beamed from an array of geostationary satellites to reveal, to within a few metres, where you are. With the aid of a decent map, you can deduce the direction in which an approximation to civilisation might be found. A GPS receiver can, in short, prove useful for travellers trying anything tricky in the wilderness.
Yet the Kremlin remains highly sensitive to anyone using equipment that, in earlier times, could have been employed by MI6 or the CIA. Even though we are notionally on the same side these days, using a GPS device in Russia will be enough to get it seized and the owner arrested. If the authorities think you have compromised national security, you can be jailed for 20 years. And this is not one of those outdated laws that are never invoked; an American who was discovered using a GPS device near the southern city of Rostov- on-Don was imprisoned for spying (though he was let out 10 days later, following, it is believed, the payment of a heavy fine). After a lifetime of secrecy under communism, old counter-espionage habits die hard.
If a democratic nation can take such a hard line, it is hardly surprising that a one-party state like Cuba, battered for 40 years by a belligerent neighbour, takes a dim view of visitors turning up with hidden cameras and listening devices. As some Cuba-watchers stress, you don't fool with Fidel (often they use a stronger verb than "fool").
Genuine tourists to Cuba have little to fear. But bear in mind that all luggage is X-rayed upon arrival. Those apparently dozy- looking characters lazily watching the screens at the airport may be more alert and experienced than they appear.
A PIECE of technology as simple as a camera may land you in trouble in parts of Africa. Much about the continent, from Tangier at the top to the Cape of Good Hope at the toe, is supremely photogenic: the people, the wildlife, the landscapes. But the US State Department has issued a series of stern warnings about the risks of taking pictures in certain African countries.
Security officials in Cameroon, for example, are "extremely sensitive about the photographing of government buildings and military installations". To make life tricky, many of these are unmarked. Break the rules, and they'll take your camera away.
Nothing too unusual about that, you might think; plenty of countries have the same sorts of rules. In neighbouring Nigeria, the prohibitions are similar but the range of punishments wider: "Penalties can include confiscation or breaking of the camera, a demand for payment of a fine or bribe, or roughing-up." Burkina Faso is even trickier, because you must first get a valid photo permit from the Ministry of Tourism, along with a list of things you cannot photograph.
In Tanzania, the definition of forbidden buildings extends to hospitals, schools and bridges, while Sudan broadens its prohibitions to include "slum areas or beggars".
The Democratic Republic of Congo (formerly Zaire), has one obvious photo opportunity: the river that gives the country its name. …