Hidden camera

For the indie rock band from Canada, see The Hidden Cameras.
8mm x 8 mm lens (with built-in image sensor) uses for mini camcorder

A hidden camera or spy camera or security camera is a still or video camera used to record 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.

Nanny cam

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).[1] 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.[2]

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 nanny being recorded. This falls under the federal government's 'wire tapping' laws.

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.

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 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.

Miniaturized cams

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.[3]

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.

Example hidden camera television shows
Show Name Channel Years of Production Number of Episodes
$25 Million Dollar Hoax NBC 2004 3
Animal Kidding Animal Planet 2003 16
Balls of Steel Channel 4 2005 19
Beadle's About ITV 1986-1996 94
Boiling Points MTV 2003-2005
Breaking Up with Shannen Doherty Oxygen 2006 14
Burned MTV 2003 30
Buzzkill MTV 1995
Candid Camera ABC/NBC/CBS/PAX 1948-1954, 1960-1967, 1987-1988, 1996-2004 1,000+
Celebrity Undercover MTV 20
Crossballs: The Debate Show Comedy Central
Da Ali G Show Channel 4
Damage Control MTV 2005 16
Dirty Sexy Funny: Olivia Lee Comedy Central UK 8
Faking the Video MTV 2004 7
Fire Me...Please CBS 2005 4
Fool Britannia ITV 2012
Fool Canada CBC 2015
Funny Business
Girls Behaving Badly Oxygen 2002-2007 72
Guys Behaving Badly Oxygen 2005 5
Hi-Jinks NIK 2005
Hidden Howie: The Private Life of a Public Nuisance BRAVO 2005 6
Impractical Jokers truTV 2011- 143
Infarto Azteca América 2005
Instant Recall GSN 2010 8
Invasion of the Hidden Cameras (When Hidden Cameras Attack) FOX 12
Jamie Kennedy Experiment WB 2003
Just For Laughs 2000
Just Kidding 2012
Kids Behaving Badly Oxygen 2005 10
Laugh Out Loud[4] M-Net
Meet the Marks FOX 2002 7
MotorMouth VH1
My Big Fat Obnoxious Boss
My Big Fat Obnoxious Fiancé
Naked Camera RTÉ Two 2005-2007 18
People Traps Animal Planet 2002 1
Peter Jacobsen Plugged In
Punk'd MTV 2003-2007, 2012 67
Que Locura Venevisión 2001
ROOM 401 MTV 2007
The Real Wedding Crashers NBC 2007 6
Really Naked Truth Playboy 22
Red Handed UPN 1999
Scare Tactics Syfy 2003
Show Me the Funny FOX 1998 155
Skunked TV NBC 2004 13
Sledgehammer VH1 2001 5
Spy TV NBC 2001 27
Taxicab Confessions HBO 1995
That's Funny 2004 80
The Carbonaro Effect truTV 2014 27
Totally Hidden Extreme Magic NBC 2
Totally Busted PlayboyTV 2003
Totally Hidden Video FOX 1989
Tourist Traps 2001 6
Trapped in TV Guide TVG 2006
Trigger Happy TV UK 2000 / US 2003 13
TV's Bloopers and Practical Jokes
Ultimate Revenge TNN/SPIKE 2001 26
Videomatch Telefé (Argentina)1991 - 2004
What Would You Do? ABC since 2009
World Shut Your Mouth BBC 2005 7
Wow Mali / Wow Mali Pa Rin![5] TV5 since 1996
You're On! Nickelodeon 1998
You've Got a Friend (My New Best Friend) MTV 2004 8

See also


  1. Nanny Cleared of Violently Shaking Baby: http://abcnews.go.com/GMA/LegalCenter/story?id=1749672#.T0MWTYfoJ7Y
  2. US Code Title 18, Chapter 119, Section 2512
  3. "The 808 Keychain Micro Camera". WordPlop. 15 October 2010. Retrieved 19 September 2012.
  4. "Laugh out Loud". M-Net. Retrieved 2008-01-06.
  5. Jeffrey Espiritu. "The wow in 'Wow Mali'". Manila Bulletin. Retrieved 2013-09-12.
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