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A hidden camera is a still or video camera used to film people without their knowledge. The camera is "hidden" because it is either not visible to the subject being filmed, or is disguised as another object. Hidden cameras have become popular for household surveillance, and can be built into common household objects such as smoke detectors, clock radios, motion detectors, ball caps, plants, and mobile phones. Hidden cameras may also be used commercially or industrially as security cameras.
A hidden spy camera can be wired or wireless. The former will be connected to a TV, VCR, or digital video recorder (DVR), whereas a wireless hidden camera can be used to transmit a video signal to a receiver within a small radius (up to a few hundred feet). Consequent to the wide proliferation and lower costs of electronics devices, hidden cameras are increasingly finding wider applications.
Hidden cameras secretly installed within a common household object to monitor and record the activities of caregivers are commonly referred to as "nanny cams." Legality of using hidden cameras are usually a subject of controversy. For example, a case involving a nanny that was allegedly caught violently shaking a baby was thrown out as worthless evidence (but due to issues regarding video quality, not legality). Some hidden camera television shows have also led to lawsuits or being denied to air by the people who were trapped in set-ups that they found unpleasant. In the United States nanny cams are legal although most are sold without audio capabilities since it is prohibited to intercept audio communications by a surreptitious manner (US Code Title 18, Chapter 119, Section 2512).
Ultraminiature still cameras have long been used for surreptitious photography, using film as small as 8×11 mm. In particular, Minox cameras were used for clandestinely photographing documents close up for espionage. Today, spy cameras can be bought by anyone for as low as $6 USD, and these modern cameras can be as small as a keychain and take high resolution video.
In reality television
Hidden cameras are also sometimes used in reality television to catch participants in unusual or absurd situations. Participants will either know they will be filmed, but not always exactly when or where, or do not know they have been filmed until later, at which point they may sign a release or give consent to the footage being produced for a show. This latter sub-genre of unwitting participants began in the 1940s with Allen Funt's Candid Microphone theatrical short films. In 1996 the genre was given an overhaul by Travis Draft who introduced the glasses cam with his show Buzzkill. The show took hidden camera to a whole new level where the performer (Draft himself and Cronies) were the focal point.
- Nanny Cleared of Violently Shaking Baby: http://abcnews.go.com/GMA/LegalCenter/story?id=1749672#.T0MWTYfoJ7Y
- "The 808 Keychain Micro Camera". WordPlop. 15 October 2010. Retrieved 19 September 2012.
- "Laugh out Loud". M-Net. Retrieved 2008-01-06.