Security specialists urged people to be vigilant about hidden cameras after Baltimore County Police on Thursday arrested a man they say secretly filmed people in a family bathroom at White Marsh Mall.
Such incidents remain relatively uncommon, security specialists said, but as technology advances and becomes more affordable, the devices are becoming more popular — and harder to detect — than ever before.
“People need to be more conscious-minded with cameras and just assume you’re being watched or videotaped,” said Timothy Keane, owner of ABCO Investigations & Protection Agency, a private investigation and security company in Berlin. “It’s a crazy world.”
Covert cameras can be as small as a pencil point, making them easy to hide in a ceiling or behind a door.
Some are designed to look like a light switch or smoke detector. They can even be bought already embedded in common household items, such as a lamp, alarm clock or teddy bear.
Home security cameras and so-called nanny cams are readily available at major retailers and online, some models priced under $20.
“The things you saw on television become reality, where you can put a camera with an SD memory card in it and battery and deploy it,” said Jim Emerick, owner of Risk Management Consultants, which specializes in licensed private investigation services and security systems.
In 2014, a Johns Hopkins gynecologist was found to have used a camera that looked like a pen to secretly film his patients.
The following year, the former president of the Rams Head Group was sentenced to 90 days in jail after pleading guilty to using a hidden camera to secretly videotape women using the toilet at the family-owned chain's restaurant in Savage.
Earlier this month a sports agent representing a Boston Red Sox player was fired after being accused of filming his clients in the shower with a hidden camera, according to news reports.
In the White Marsh Mall incident, police discovered a small black camera, roughly 1 inch by 2 inches with a 4-inch wire attached, taped to a partition between two bathroom areas. Police said they did not believe the camera had been in the bathroom long because few people had been recorded.
While the technology can be used in nefarious ways, it was designed for legitimate purposes.
Advanced home security systems can not only detect an intruder, but send alerts to the homeowner’s smartphone with a video of the room in question.
Nanny cams are intended to reduce abuse of children or elders by their caretakers by allowing others to see what’s happening in a room.
Hanover-based Eyewitness Surveillance specializes in advanced business surveillance systems that analyze customer foot traffic and employee behavior to help companies prevent theft, inventory damage and false claims.
The technology is intended to be a more efficient alternative to overnight security guards, and is increasingly popular among businesses looking to save money, said David Snyder, vice president of security operations for Eyewitness.
“As the prices are coming down and clients are looking to lower their costs and lower the amount of stuff getting stolen, there’s this massive confluence and the industry is growing,” Snyder said.
A 2017 report by industry analytics firm MarketsandMarkets estimated the security solutions market would be worth $372.9 million by 2022.
Private homeowners are free to install cameras in their homes and businesses commonly set up security cameras at cash registers and exits.
While companies that sell security devices can’t guarantee how their products will be used, professional security experts take steps to ensure the technology won’t be abused.
“I try to get out of the customer what they’re trying to do, so I can properly sell them the equipment,” said Aloha “YT” Miller, general manager of Maryland Burglar Alarm Co., an Essex seller of residential and commercial security systems.
Regardless of whether they are in a public place or private home, cameras shouldn’t be installed in rooms where people have a reasonable expectation of privacy, such as a bathroom or bedroom, specialists said.
To protect against becoming a victim of illegal filming, people should be vigilant and look for anything out of place, such as a button on the ceiling or extra wires, Miller said. Even tiny cameras will need a hole for the lens to look through.
“You’ve got to be aware of your surroundings,” Miller said. “If something doesn’t look right, talk to somebody, ask somebody about it.”