9 Uncomfortable Places That Might Have Hidden Cameras

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Security guard watching video feeds
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An online purchase doesn’t show up, so you check your doorbell camera and learn the porch pirate is none other than your next-door neighbor. Yay security!

Your brother’s car gets broken into while he’s shopping. Fortunately, parking lot cameras help the cops nab the crook. Hurrah for electronic policing!

Modern security systems are designed to keep us safe. But the proliferation of cameras can be unnerving.

Stores, banks, airports and even houses of worship have surveillance systems. Cyclists wear GoPros. Law enforcement officers sport bodycams. Passers-by seem to spend more time shooting reels than sending texts. How many folks are taking your picture, and what are they doing with it?

Everybody wants to feel safe, but nobody likes to be spied on. Yet you can’t have it both ways. Most public places — and plenty of private ones — have visible cameras (and maybe even hidden ones).

Fact is, you may be surveilled without knowing it. Even a camera that’s not technically “hidden” might not be noticeable at first. Here’s what to keep in mind when trying to keep your privacy.

1. Your hotel room/vacation rental

Man looking at hotel charges
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Is someone watching you undress? Probably not. According to a March 2024 article from The New York Times:

  • The American Hotel and Lodging Association, which represents 80% of franchised U.S. hotels, states that surveillance should be placed only in common areas such as pools or lobbies.
  • As of April 30, 2024, Airbnb has banned the use of any surveillance in rentals.
  • The Vrbo rental platform had banned indoor cameras since 2022, except for cameras that guests are told about and shown how to deactivate.

None of this guarantees you won’t be filmed, though. There’s a slight chance that some creepy homeowner or hotel employee will set up illegal surveillance. An article on PCMag.com offers tips on how to spot hidden cameras before that romantic weekend getaway.

Note: Some folks who rent their properties might have outdoor security cameras. Remember that before you sunbathe in the nude or go skinny-dipping.

2. Hospital rooms

Worried senior woman in a hospital bed
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Some hospital rooms have cameras for so-called “inpatient telehealth.” For example, Health Tech Magazine reports that Mercy Virtual has used this method for more than a dozen years in its Midwest hospitals. Cameras, speakers and microphones in hospital rooms allow clinicians to check in remotely to speak with patients and monitor their conditions.

During the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown, Phoenix-based Banner Healthcare retrofitted televisions in nearly 1,200 rooms across six states so doctors and nurses could monitor and speak to patients using iPads. Around the same time, MarinHealth of San Francisco began installing cameras with integrated speakers and microphones, both for “flexibility at a time of crisis” and as part of a long-term health care plan.

Hospitals do not place cameras in areas where patients can reasonably expect privacy, such as the bathroom.

Few of us are at our best when sick or injured, especially since those hospital nightgowns are so breezy in the back. Try to keep in mind that doctors and nurses have already seen it all, and seeing it by camera is no different than seeing it during an in-room visit.

3. School buses

school bus
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Search online for “school bus assault,” and you’ll get an eyeful. Students fighting with one another. Drivers hitting students. Students — or their parents — swinging on drivers.

In-bus video cameras record it all for the authorities. If you’ve got a beef with the person driving your kid to school, don’t start anything in the moment. Instead, take it up with the transportation supervisor, lest you wind up on the evening news.

Some buses have exterior video cameras, designed to catch drivers who speed past a bus while the “stop” sign is extended and stopping is thus legally required. It would be mighty embarrassing to be filmed this way and even more embarrassing when the police arrive at your front door.

4. Elevators

Crowded elevator
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Alone in an elevator, you may be tempted to dance like no one’s watching. However, someone probably is watching. Most elevators have some kind of video surveillance — and those tapes aren’t always kept private.

Go search for “weird elevator camera” or “caught on elevator camera.” You’ll see a guy trying to blow a bubble but accidentally spitting his gum into a woman’s hair. Watch a guy freak out when the elevator car fills up with folks dressed as “Star Wars” characters.

A pizza delivery dude eats most of the pie’s toppings on the way up. Drunk young women spray-paint the elevator walls, then look stricken as they notice the camera. And on and on.

Next time you want to make out with your partner between the lobby and the 18th floor, remember the cameras.

5. ATMs

Woman using an ATM
Oscar M Sanchez / Shutterstock.com

Automated teller machines are getting smarter all the time, according to security company ATMeye.IQ. For example, if a would-be thief covers the surveillance camera, the ATM can be shut down before a stolen card can be used. Anti-skimming technologies and devices are improving as well, to help keep your bank card data safe.

Videos of ATM transactions are rarely flattering. Even if you’re not the bad guy, you might wince at how haggard you look in the video: like your driver’s license photo, only in real time.

And if you are the bad guy — e.g., you “borrowed” a partner or relative’s card without express permission? Doesn’t matter whether you had a plan to pay them back. You’re on film, looking like a thief. A sickly thief.

6. Cruise ships

Couple on a cruise
michaeljung / Shutterstock.com

Sun, fun and … surveillance? It’s for your own protection since you’ll be hobnobbing with thousands of strangers. The Cruise Vessel Security and Safety Act requires video surveillance in public areas to help deter crime and also to gather evidence if crimes do occur.

If you’re on a cruise, you might be tempted to go overboard (so to speak) with the “fun” part of the equation. Getting a little tipsy is probably fine. But being a sloppy drunk can get you kicked off the boat if you pick fights, pull dangerous stunts (like the guy who jumped from the 11th-floor balcony for a social media video) or act out in other ways, according to the Royal Caribbean blog.

There’s another reason not to be a jerk, too: The footage might wind up on a “passengers behaving badly” compilation online.

While ship surveillance operates only in public areas, some creepster might set up their own camera. For example, NBC News reported a 2023 incident of a man who hid a camera in a restroom on the Royal Caribbean cruise ship Harmony of the Seas. The PC Mag article mentioned earlier can help you with due diligence.

7. Coffee shops

Senior woman working in coffee shop
Tyler Olson / Shutterstock.com

We get it: You need that coffee to kick-start your workday. But if the foam isn’t quite foamy enough, don’t berate the barista. Like other retailers, java joints are increasingly likely to have video cameras. You’ll look like an undercaffeinated Karen (or Kevin), and you might be asked to leave.

Those cameras can be a great help to law enforcement. For example, a fatal Easter Sunday 2024 shooting in a Nashville coffee shop was captured on camera, according to CNN. The video helped identify the alleged assailant, who was arrested two days later.

Keep an eye out for unauthorized filming, though. Fox News reported that a camera hidden in a suburban Atlanta Starbucks in 2018 had about an hour’s worth of recordings of customers using the toilet. The camera was taped beneath a baby-changing station.

8. The break room

Employee break room
Mila Supinskaya Glashchenko / Shutterstock.com

Depending on where you live, it might be legal for the boss to put up surveillance cameras in the employee lounge. According to the nonprofit advocacy group Workplace Fairness, federal law appears to support using “visible cameras” to film people at work. Often that’s a surveillance system designed to prevent theft, but sometimes it’s a way for the boss to see what you’re actually doing at work.

According to legal website Nolo.com, if a company has a legitimate reason to film in “public” areas (as opposed to bathrooms or locker rooms) and informs workers about the cameras, the court system will likely uphold such policies. One exception is Connecticut, which specifically prohibits surveillance in “areas designed for employee rest and comfort,” such as a worker lounge.

As for hidden cameras, Workplace Fairness notes that employers need a justifiable reason to install them. The nonprofit suggests that companies inform workers that hidden cameras are in use.

9. Bars

Woman holding a margarita
giuseppelombardo / Shutterstock.com

Some cities require bars, taverns and pubs to install cameras, according to the Hospitality Insurance Group, which specializes in liquor liability coverage. Even if they don’t, a surveillance system is a crucial defense in the event of a liquor liability claim since “fights, theft and vandalism” are part of the territory for a barkeep.

No one is suggesting that you plan to start trouble the next time you go out with friends. But for some folks, too much alcohol truly does break the chain and free the beast. Next time you’re tempted to overindulge, remember that you’re almost certainly being filmed.

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