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A hidden camera or spy 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 can be built into commonly used objects such as television sets, smoke detectors, clock radios, motion detectors, ball caps, plants, and mobile phones. Hidden cameras may be used for household surveillance and may also be used commercially or industrially as security cameras. The proliferation and lower costs of video recording devices has led to an increase in the use of hidden cameras for legitimate surveillance need, as well as for entertainment and other purposes.
The use of hidden cameras raises personal privacy issues and there may be legal aspects to consider, depending on the jurisdiction in which use takes place. A hidden camera can be contrasted with CCTV, which is visible and which sometimes is accompanied with a warning notice of its presence.
A hidden camera can be wired or wireless. The former will be connected by cable to a viewing or recording device, such as a TV, VCR, digital video recorder (DVR), memory card or other data storage medium; whereas a wireless hidden camera can transmit a video signal to a receiver within a small radius, where the images may be viewed or recorded. Hidden cameras may also have an audio capability. A hidden camera may be activated manually, by remote control or be connected to a motion detector.
Hidden cameras may be installed within common household objects to monitor and record the activities of caregivers. These are commonly referred to as "nanny cams." The legality of using hidden cameras is 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 surreptitiously.
In the United Kingdom
The use of hidden cameras is generally permitted under UK law, if used in a legal manner and towards legitimate ends. Individuals may use covert surveillance in their own home to spy on others, in the workplace to monitor employees, outside of a domestic or commercial property for security purposes, and in most security situations where there is a just need to do so. There are a number of laws under the Data Protection Act and Human Rights Acts that may impact on the use of hidden cameras.
Legal requirements for use of spy cameras
In any type of covert surveillance, footage should only be used for the purpose for which it has been taken, which must be a legitimate security reason. The person in possession of the footage is responsible for its use, and must only retain footage for as long as it is reasonably needed. It is not permitted to release footage to third parties except when there is a legal necessity.
Illegal use of spy cameras
It is illegal under UK law to deploy covert cameras in areas where individuals would have an expectation of privacy, such as bathrooms, changing rooms and locker rooms, or plant a hidden camera in someone else’s home, or an area someone else owns.
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 subgenre 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
- US Code Title 18, Chapter 119, Section 2512
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