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Spy Camera

Learn about spy cameras and the most popular use for them.

Spy cameras record activity without the subjects' knowledge. [©Jupiter Images, 2010]
©Jupiter Images, 2010
Spy cameras record activity without the subjects' knowledge.

According to the University of California, a hidden camera, commonly referred to as a spy camera or spy cam, is any camera that records a person's actions without their knowledge or consent. With a growing concern for personal safety and the security of property, the spy cam is a ubiquitous gadget of modern life. The most common use of the spy camera remains the nanny cam.

What is a nanny cam?

The nanny cam is a hidden surveillance camera that is placed in a residence to allow parents to confirm the safety and appropriate treatment of their children when under the care of babysitters, nannies and other child care providers. Whether the camera is put in place as a matter of concern for a child care provider's character and temperament, or just to provide busy parents with a little extra piece of mind, nanny cams provide a second set of eyes and allow parents to support the claims of a nanny or their child.

Nanny cams do not just watch nannies. Careful placement inside and outside the home allow the individual to keep track of their home and personal property when at work. They provide insight into visitors, deliveries and potential burglars entering or leaving a home.

Placing a Nanny Cam

Taking the time to choose the correct location for a nanny cam is key. Incorrect placement will prevent the capture of activity whether positive or negative. Areas of high traffic in a home and in a child's life offer the best chances for constructive hidden camera placement. This would include places such as playrooms, kitchens, nurseries and living rooms. It is important to remember that the nanny cam should not be placed in a bathroom or washroom or in any place where a child care provider may be found in a state of undress.

Many spy cams come already inserted into household objects. Cameras placed on the ceiling or high on the wall offer wide views of a given area. The smoke detector or motion detector style camera works well for such placement. Other ways to hide a nanny cam in the home include:

  • In clock radios
  • As air purifiers
  • Inside pencil sharpeners
  • As wall clocks
  • In computer speakers
  • Inside carbon monoxide detectors
  • As hard back books
  • As thermostats
  • As fans or lamps
  • Inside artificial plants

Choosing the Right Nanny Cam

There are four basic types of nanny cams available on today's market: digital cameras, live view Web cams, hardwired camera systems and wireless cams. Each type of system has its own pros and cons.

Digital cameras are the most up-to-date nanny cams and offer motion-activated recording. This means that the camera will only begin to record with either physical movement or verbal audio, such as a person entering the perimeter covered by the camera's location. This ensures the camera is not running without cause and time is not wasted reviewing hours of empty footage.

Live Web cams are the perfect nanny cam for those working at a desk all day where they have access to the Internet. Live cams send endless video stream to a receiver and offer both date and time stamping.

Hardwired nanny cams are the least expensive of the different spy cams as they plug directly into the wall. Although cost effective, hardwiring means both camera and recorder must be in the same room, making detection easier. Alternately, wireless nanny cams can receive a recording signal through a solid wall and do not need to be plugged in. This allows the homeowner to keep the camera and recorder in two separate rooms, decreasing the chance of detection.

Adjustment and Focus of the Spy Cam

Besides placing nanny cams in a part of a room that allows for the widest scope, it is sometimes necessary to adjust focus of a camera. For low light areas, fixed focus cameras are preferred. Other cameras allow for manual focus adjustment and high-end models offer AI, or automatic iris, which means the camera's focus adjusts in accordance with action in the location. Whatever price range of adjustment and focus an individual chooses, it is a good idea to do a test run of equipment to check and adjust camera settings.

Legal Matters

According to The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, at least 13 states (Alabama, Arkansas, California, Delaware, Georgia, Hawaii, Kansas, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, New Hampshire, South Dakota and Utah) expressly forbid the placement of nanny cams and other hidden cameras in private areas. A place of privacy is determined as a place where the individual can have a reasonable expectation of not being filmed. This would include a changing room, locker room or a public bathroom.

Every state and jurisdiction has its own privacy and surveillance laws so anyone considering the installation of nanny cams in their own home should consult with local and state authorities before doing so. The penalties for not following state surveillance laws include fines and jail time. It is important to note that some states do not allow for both audio and visual surveillance in the home.

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