Violation of your privacy is probably the last thing on your mind when you’re on vacation. This is supposed to be your time to destress and enjoy a well-deserved break from work. But if you’re booking accommodation through Airbnb or other vacation rental apps, you may come across unscrupulous hosts who have no consideration for your private matters. They may be using hidden surveillance cameras to spy on you.
How to Find Hidden Cameras
Setting up secret surveillance is easy these days, what with affordable cameras and surveillance kits anyone can buy online. It’s also quite easy to repurpose old smartphones and tablets into a dedicated closed-circuit television (CCTV) camera. Use the tips below to help you uncover hidden cameras:
1. Hidden cameras may look like other household items. They could appear like ordinary books, power adapters, mirrors, smoke detectors, potted plants, light bulbs, and showerheads. Check ordinary items that are out of place.
2. Cameras need a lens to work. Turn off the lights so the room is dark, then use a flashlight on suspicious objects and surfaces. If you notice any glinting, that could be the lens reflecting the light. Note that the lens can be very small—as small as a pinhole—in modern spy cams.
3. Some CCTV cameras have LEDs that light up when the room is dark, allowing these cameras to see the surroundings even when it’s pitch-black. Look for these LEDs. If they’re infrared LEDs, use your smartphone’s camera app. The human eye cannot see infrared light, but smartphone cameras can. 4. Learn how to spot transparent mirrors that are disguised as ordinary mirrors. These are mirrors that are reflective on one side but also allow someone, or perhaps a hidden camera, to see through from the other side. 5. Use apps to help you detect hidden cameras. Hidden Camera Detector, for example, looks for a magnetic activity to identify cameras. The effectiveness of these apps may vary.
6. Use a network scanner and see if there are hidden cameras connected to the Wi-Fi network. A recommended option is Fing. This only works if you’re in the same Wi-Fi network as the cameras.
7. Use an RF detector to find hidden cameras that transmit radio frequencies.
8. Ask the host if they’ve installed surveillance cameras. An honest host should have no qualms in telling you of the monitoring system that they properly use to protect their property against thieves, vandals, and other ill-mannered guests while still respecting your privacy.
What Airbnb and Other Rental Services Have to Say About Hidden Cameras
Airbnb allows the use of cameras and recording devices, but there are restrictions and conditions. Vrbo has a similar policy that allows “reasonable monitoring… while still protecting privacy,” and ditto for Booking.com.
Suffice to say, cameras for surveillance are generally allowed by rental services for the convenience and security of both hosts and guests, as long as the cameras are conspicuous and located in common spaces except sleeping and bathing rooms. Guests also need to be informed of the presence of cameras.
Any privacy-infringing hidden cameras must be reported to the rental service immediately. At the very least, this may entitle you to get a refund. Exposing the offending host will also help other users avoid availing of their accommodation. The rental service may also permanently ban the host.
What the Law Has to Say About Hidden Cameras
In the Philippines, there are various laws protecting the right to privacy of citizens, some of which are aimed specifically at combatting the act of recording people without their knowledge. Perhaps the most relevant is RA 9995 or the Anti-Photo and Video Voyeurism Act of 2009. Recording using hidden cameras may also be deemed as illegal interception, which is punishable under RA 10175 or the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012.
Better Be Safe Than Sorry
Despite policies of vacation rental services and relevant laws, there will always be hosts who aren’t deterred by these regulations and will continue their creepy ways. Incidents in which guests discover secret cameras regularly come up in the news these days. Worse, surveillance cameras can be hacked, and the recordings can be sold to the black market.
It’s mildly troublesome as you’re supposed to be enjoying your vacation, but it’s best to assume you’re being watched. Take precautions accordingly for your own safety and privacy. Check if the place is bugged. If you can’t entirely confirm if an object has a hidden camera, consider covering it. If it’s electronic, unplug it and/or remove its battery.