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8 mm × 8 mm lens with a built-in image sensor, used for a mini camcorder

A hidden camera or spy camera is a camera used to photograph or record subjects, often people, without their knowledge. The camera may be considered "hidden" because it is not visible to the subject being filmed, or is disguised as another object. Hidden cameras are often considered a surveillance tool.

The term "hidden camera" is commonly used when subjects are unaware that they are being recorded, usually lacking their knowledge and consent; the term "spy camera" is generally used when the subject would object to being recorded if they were aware of the camera's presence. In contrast, the phrase "security camera" refers to cameras that are visible and/or are accompanied by a warning notice of their presence, so the subject is aware of the camera's presence and knows they are being filmed.[citation needed]

The use of hidden cameras raises personal privacy issues. There may be legal aspects to consider, depending on the jurisdiction in which they are used.


A hidden camera can be wired or wireless. Hidden cameras connected, by cable or wirelessly, to a viewing or recording device, such as a television, computer, videocassette recorder, network video recorder, digital video recorder, memory card, or another data storage medium. They may also store their images or recordings online, such as through a livestream. Hidden video cameras may or may not have audio recording capabilities. Hidden cameras may be activated manually, remotely, or through motion detection.

A hidden camera may not be visible to the subject, for example, because it is fitted with a long-focus lens and located beyond the view of the subject, or because it is obscured or hidden by an object, such as a one-way mirror. Hidden cameras can be built into a wide variety of items, ranging from electronics (television sets, smoke detectors, clocks, motion detectors, mobile phones, personal computers) to everyday objects where electronics are not expected to be found (stationery, plants, glasses, clothing, street lights[1]).


Common applications for hidden cameras are property security, personal surveillance, photography, or entertainment purposes, though they may also be used for espionage or surveillance by law enforcement, intelligence agencies, corporations, or other entities. They may also be used for illegal activity, such as criminal scope-outs, stalking, or voyeurism.

Hidden cameras may be installed within common household objects for parents to monitor and record the activities of nannies and sometimes the children themselves. These hidden cameras are commonly referred to as "nanny cams". The use nanny cams can be a subject of controversy. For example, a 2003 criminal case in Florida, involving a nanny that was allegedly caught by a nanny cam violently shaking a baby, was thrown out in 2006 when the video was considered "worthless evidence"; however, this was due to issues regarding video quality, not legality, and several earlier cases used clearer nanny cam footage as evidence.[2] Some hidden camera television shows have also led to lawsuits or the cancellation of episodes by the people who were trapped in set-ups that they found unpleasant. [citation needed]

Hidden cameras are sometimes placed in holiday rental apartments such as those advertised on Airbnb. Questions have been raised about the safety and privacy of holidaymakers in these circumstances.[3]

In media

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Hidden cameras are sometimes used in reality television and social media, where they are used to catch participants in unusual or absurd situations. Participants will either know they will be filmed, but not always exactly when or where; or they will 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 a hidden camera to a whole new level where the performer was the focal point.

Examples of use of hidden cameras in 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+
The Carbonaro Effect truTV 2014 27
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
Freak Out Freeform 2014–2015
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
I'm Spazticus Channel 4 2012– 10
Jamie Kennedy Experiment WB 2003
Just for Laughs Gags 2000 3,000+
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 6
PrankStars Disney Channel 2011–2016 6
Que Locura Venevisión 2001
Rank the Prank CBBC 2016
ROOM 401 MTV 2007
The Real Wedding Crashers NBC 2007 6
Really Naked Truth Playboy 22
Red Handed UPN 1999
Red Light Districts Outdoor Life Network 2003–2004 14
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
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
Walk the Prank Disney XD 2016
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

Legal issues

South Korea

Main article: Molka

In South Korea, hidden cameras (abbreviated to Molka in Korean) proliferated in the 2010s and enabled the spread of voyeuristic images and videos. The term Molka can refer to both the actual cameras as well as the footage posted online.[6]

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, in the workplace for employee monitoring, outside of a domestic or commercial property for security purposes and in security situations where there may be a need to do so. There are a number of laws under the Data Protection Act and Human Rights Acts that may affect the use of hidden cameras.[7]

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 the 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. It is also illegal to place hidden cameras in someone else's home or on someone else's property.

United States

In the United States, the purchase, ownership, and use of hidden cameras and nanny cams is generally considered legal in all 50 states. However, U.S. Code Title 18, Chapter 119, Section 2512 prohibits the interception of oral communication by "surreptitious manner" such as a hidden recording device, and so most hidden video cameras are not available with audio recording.[8] Additionally, it is illegal in 13 states to record audio without express or written consent of the nanny being recorded. Despite this, some hidden cameras are still sold in the United States with audio recording capabilities, though their use is illegal and their recordings cannot legally be used as evidence.[citation needed]

See also


  1. ^ Rohrlich, Justin; Gershgorn, Dave (November 9, 2018). "The DEA and ICE are hiding surveillance cameras in streetlights". Quartz. Archived from the original on November 12, 2018. Retrieved November 12, 2018.
  2. ^ "Nanny Cleared of Violently Shaking Baby". ABC News. 21 March 2006. Archived from the original on 6 August 2020. Retrieved 28 June 2020.
  3. ^ Coffey, Helen (27 November 2023). "How to spot hidden cameras in Airbnb rental properties". Independent.
  4. ^ "Laugh out Loud". M-Net. Retrieved 2008-01-06.[permanent dead link]
  5. ^ Jeffrey Espiritu. "The wow in 'Wow Mali'". Manila Bulletin. Archived from the original on 2013-09-12. Retrieved 2013-09-12.
  6. ^ Gibson, Jenna. "K-Pop's Sexual Assault Scandal Is the Tip of the Iceberg". Foreign Policy. Archived from the original on 2019-03-30. Retrieved 2019-06-08.
  7. ^ Francis, Harry. "Are Workplace Security Cameras Legal". Employee Monitoring. Retrieved 2018-10-24.[permanent dead link]
  8. ^ U.S. Code Title 18, Chapter 119, Section 2512