City Busted Using Spycams in Bathrooms

Author: Carlton Purvis, Published on Sep 04, 2013

Surveillance cameras in bathrooms? Hard to believe. In city bathrooms? Even harder. Bought by the city itself? Almost impossible.

Nonetheless, more than a dozen secret surveillance camera have been used in public bathrooms, according to an investigation conducted by a former firefighter in Michigan. In this note, we explain the case, how the firefighter built it and the legal / privacy implications of this fiasco.

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Ludington Camera Purchases

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Comments (15)

I've installed surveillance cameras in public restrooms in the past. The police reviewing the video footage (from time to time) didn't seem to mind at all.

I hear there are hidden cameras behind changing mirrors at department stores, based on one the Opera Winfrey show episode. And they said it was perfectly legal for as long as signs are posted. Last time I was at a Sears store, there were very visible signs (under surveillance cameras) before entering the changing rooms.

Wow. "The police reviewing the video footage (from time to time) didn't seem to mind at all." I don't think the viewer is the issue. It's the viewee, i.e., the person in the bathroom who is likely to mind.

There's a big difference between cameras at an entrance to a bathroom / changing room vs ones inside the room.

Do you have a link to the hidden cameras behind changing mirrors? Because I think many would find it deeply offensive. I did find a case where the door slits were adjusted to make it easy to look in (but not see out). However, the resulting protests quickly forced that Macy's to change this.

John,

The drug dealing occurs in the public washrooms, that's why they had me install those cameras. The viewees are seeing peeing in the urinals, but showing only their backs.

I don't have any references to the Oprah Winfrey show episode that discussed it. I looked on their website, but their search engine is quite useless. During the show that discussed it, Oprah said she always shows her butt to the mirrors. They even showed recorded video clips of cameras installed at hotels where you'd see people showering, all of which they proclaim to be legal (according to the show). Was this just to shock people for viewers rating, I don't know, but based on my visit to Sears, I'd say they are right. Big warnings of surveillance cameras before entering the changing rooms, but no visible cameras anywhere.

Oops, I forgot to mention that they said the security people working for those department stores were having fun watching the people trying out clothes ... giving comments.

"the security people working for those department stores were having fun watching the people trying out clothes ... giving comments."

I am sure this happens. I remember an incident where the security guard used a PTZ to zoom in on models changing in a mall fashion show.

That said, they got fired for doing so, which is something I would expect if the public or a reasonable superior found out about it.

I am not doubting this happens. I am doubting whether it's (1) legal or (2) tolerable by the public.

As long as the public doesn't know about it, it is tolerated. <g> Someone out there should know for sure, manufacturers, governing bodies, etc..

A few patrons at the clients' nightclub did find out and complain about it, but nothing happened as a result. The hidden cameras have been in place for the past 8 or 9 years.

What are the odds that a 13 yr old time lapse recorder is even functioning in 2013? It's tough to claim your privacy is being violated by a non-functional recording device.

Also, from that local story referenced:

"Rotta also alleged that cameras were in the newly renovated restrooms on the north side of Stearns Park. He took pictures of what appeared to be smoke detectors and claimed the detectors had cameras in them. Shay said they aren’t smoke detectors but rather are humidity detectors and they do not have cameras in them. When the sensors detect humidity, the fans automatically turn on. The sensors have lenses on them, which make them look like cameras."

Are there any pics of the humidity sensors?

Humidity sensors do not have lenses on them.

Here's one Marty. All the pictures here.

Why do you need humidity detectors in the bathrooms anyway?

The rule of thumb I've dealt with for the last 12 years in this industry is that cameras in bathrooms are a no-no because the ENTIRE restroom area has a reasonable expectation of privacy.

I have a feeling a large settlement from this city is forthcoming.

Why do you need humidity detectors in the bathrooms anyway?

In the absence of HVAC system, humidity sensors tied to exhaust fans are provisional improvements to keep toilet paper from getting soggy and mirrors from fogging. Lowering humidity also keeps facilities free of mold & mildew, reducing upkeep costs.

This bathroom is located near a beach, so the assumption is high humidity during the summer is even higher inside a bathroom facility.

(Now someone can endorse me for 'watercloset design' on LinkedIn.)

doesn't one have a reasonable expectation of privacy in a public restroom? what makes them think that this is ok or that people would be ok with it? i would think that the city will have a lawsuit on their hands now that this information is public.

Michigan loves their public park bathroom cameras. Here's another, similar story from Norway, MI a few years ago.

In the definitions section of the MI statute you linked to, 750.539a, it defines 'Private Place':

"(1) “Private place” means a place where one may reasonably expect to be safe from casual or hostile intrusion or surveillance but does not include a place to which the public or substantial group of the public has access."

The bolded part above appears to give them an exception even if public park bathrooms are legally deemed to be a private place... :(

I've heard that one can record anything they want at home. An American lady once sued her boyfriend (or acquantance) after he showed their love making on film to friends. She supposedly lost the suit. Reason, he supposedly had legal rights to record anything he wanted at his own house. Another crazy story from the States, but how true is it, I don't know.

I've heard that one can record anything they want at home.

Undisclosed, that isn't entirely true. There are a lot of other laws that can come into play (and have in similar cases) from copyright violations, to likeness infringement, to privacy depending on what the video is used for, how it was recorded, etc.

Additionally, the girlfriend could have argued "reasonable expectation of privacy" in that case just like she could on any other private property.

Agreed Keefe. Just because there is a sign doesn't mean it's appropriate.

Having been an installer I always scope out the cameras wherever I am. To my knowledge I have never been recorded in a restroom or clothes changing room. Also as an installer, I would have turned down any request to install cameras to record these areas.

Scott,

I once turned down a client wanting to install microphones to evedrop on employees and customers. But, if installing those cameras is actually legal, who am I to say no. But, I do agree those stores are going too far, if indeed they put cameras behind changing room mirrors. One way to find out might be to try to scratch the mirror. Plastic mirrors easily scratch.

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