On a recent trip-up, I hurriedly rented an Airbnb private home and merely after I was there did I notice it was loaded down with a slew of indoor surveillance cameras. It got me supposing. Whats the legality of this? Is there anything I can do about it?
Concern over hidden cameras is growing, especially when it pertains to rental properties. In fact, right now Airbnb is involved in a lawsuit over simply that. According to the case file, a woman claims that she believed the apartment she rented to be a private space, so she was frequently nude in the living room. Also, she and her travel companion discussed sensitive topics like finances and relationships that the cameras microphone could have picked up.
The companys policy is summed up on its website, which says 😛 TAGEND We expect hosts to respect their guests privacy. You must notify your guests about any security cameras or other surveillance devices at or around your listing, and get permission where required. The employ of surveillance equipment may also be against the law in some places, so make sure you understand your local regulations .
The property that I rented did disclose in the listing at the very end that there existed security cameras in the house. In retrospect, heres a lesson learned. I should have asked the host some very pointed questions such as the exact number of cameras, the place of the cameras, whether the cameras were recording, and what happens to those recordings after my stay.
I spoke with Nick Shapiro with Airbnb about my situation. He was quick to point out that Airbnb takes privacy fears seriously. Had I not been informed of the indoor cameras and reported it to them, Airbnb would have actually set me up at a nearby hotel. They would also investigate the matter and if undisclosed cameras were found, that landowners listing on Airbnb would be terminated. Thats reassuring customer service from a company as big as Airbnb.
Laws on this sticky subject vary from state to state and sometimes, city to city. There is no over-riding federal law. But in general, local and state statutes usually permit landowners to install cameras in public spaces. This is an important distinction. Private regions, like bedrooms and bathrooms, or anywhere else that anyone would reasonably expect privacy are off limits.
In a situation where you rent a single room of a house or apartment, it gets trickier. Your expectation of privacy would only apply to the room and the bathroom. The person renting can set cameras elsewhere, such as the living room or their rooms, and it would likely be legal.
However, as BrickHouse Security reminds us, recording someone to the needs of blackmail or other malicious intent is illegal in any situation. Also, audio recording has much stricter rules than video. In many states, both parties need to be aware that the recording is taking place.
If youre renting, first check the listings carefully for any mention of cameras. Regardless, your job upon arrival is to check every single room. The good news is that procuring these cameras merely voices difficult.
How to spot and disable cameras
Cameras come in all shapes and sizes. There are larger ones that look like cameras, which are easy to spot. Smaller cameras, such as the Nest Dropcam, can slip behind furnishings, decorations or ventilates. Then there are snoop cameras that conceal in everyday objects like alarm clock, stuffed animals or painting frames.
A simple route to spot most types of cameras is to look for the lens reflection. This necessitates turning off the lights and slowly scanning the room with a flashlight, or laser pointer, looking for bright reflections. It runs even better if youre appearing through something like an empty roll of toilet paper because it constricts your focus. Be sure to scan the room from multiple places so you dont miss a camera pointed merely at certain places.
You should also do a close visual inspection of the ventilates, as well as any pits or gaps in the walls or ceilings. Fortunately, for a camera to see you, you have to be able to see it as well, so it cant be entirely hidden.
There are gadgets on the market that are geared specifically toward lens detecting, like the BrickHouse Security Mini Hidden Camera Detector. Its $100 and it uses flashing red LEDs for better detecting. BrickHouse builds other gadgets that use lasers instead of LEDs and have other fancy features, but those get up into the $500 scope and are principally meant for law enforcement.
In addition to lens detecting, you can also get an RF detector. This can pick up wireless cameras within 10 feet or so. Some of the expensive ones have screens to prove you what the camera is seeing. Unfortunately, RF detectors arent great for wired or record-only cameras. For those, youll need to stick with the lens reflection method.
You can find RF detectors for under $30, but the quality is suspect. BrickHouse makes a basic model that sells for $70. It also has a model for $140 that blends an RF detector with a lens-reflection detector.
If you can connect to the rentals wireless network, a free program like Wireless Network Watcher shows what gadgets are connected. You might be able to spot connected cameras. Just be aware that the owner might have set the cameras on a second network, or they could be wired or record-only types.
If the rental property are dominated by a home automation system, its reasonably easy to find cameras. Open the system controllers menu and look for anything mentioning cameras. Accordingly, scan the TV channels for anything suspicious.
There are hardware jammers that block Wi-Fi entirely. Using these, you could basically take any and all Internet-enabled cameras offline. But jammers are illegal in the U.S.
What to do if you find a camera
If the presence of indoor surveillance cameras was not disclosed to you, the answer is simple: Pick up the phone and call the police. Tell them you have direct evidence that your landowner is spying on you, without your knowledge or permission, inside your rental home. Use this exact phrase.
While youre waiting for police to arrive, document the situation with video and photos on your smartphone. If you are travelling with others, asking questions to be witnesses. Remind them they were about to be victimized too.
Once you have your police report, contact the rental site.
Make no mistake. Stumbling over surveillance cameras isnt simply creepy. This is a big deal involving your basic constitutional rights and the law.
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Kim Komando hosts the nations largest weekend radio talk display as she takes calls and dispenses advice on todays digital lifestyle. Visit Komando.com for free podcasts, videos, product reviews, shows, tips-off and advice .
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