A hidden camera or spy camera is a still or video camera used to record people without them knowing. The camera is "hidden" because it is either not visible to the person being filmed, or is disguised as another object.
The best spy camera is one built into an everyday object such as a television set, smoke detector, clock radio, adaptor, plant, or mobile phone. They can be used for home surveillance, commercial or industrial use. And with the increased number of spy cameras and lower costs of video recording devices has led to an increase in the use of hidden cameras for legitimate surveillance needs, as well as for other purposes.
A spy camera can be wired or wireless. A wired spy camera will be connected by cable to a viewing or recording device, such as a monitor and digital video recorder (DVR), memory card or other data storage medium.
A wireless hidden spy camera can transmit a video signal to a receiver within a small distance, where the images may be viewed or recorded. Spy cameras may also have an audio capability and may be activated manually, by remote control or be connected to a motion detector sensor.
Legal Use of Hidden Cameras
The use of hidden cameras for spying raises personal privacy issues and there may be legal aspects to consider, depending on the country and state in which the spy camera is being used.
The legalities of using hidden cameras is sometimes a subject of controversy; case in point: a case involving a nanny that was allegedly caught violently shaking a baby was thrown out as worthless evidence (due to issues regarding video quality, not legality).
In the United States, nanny cams are legal although most are sold without audio capabilities, since it is prohibited (in some States) to intercept audio communications without all parties knowledge.
The US Code Title 18, Chapter 119, Section 2512 prohibits the interception of oral communication by "surreptitious manner" such as a hidden camera, and so most nanny cams are not available with audio recording. Though some on the market may be available with the ability to record audio, these cameras should not be used due to the illegality of the recordings they produce.
Nanny cams are legal in all 50 states, but it is illegal in 13 states to record audio without express or written consent of the subject being recorded. This falls under the federal government's 'wire tapping' laws.
The use of spy 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 the 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.
It is illegal 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.