There are stories of hotels using hidden cameras to spy on their guests. Is this something that you should be worried about? How prevalent is this practice? How can you check for hidden cameras in a hotel room? What should you look for, and what tools can you use?
This article explores the use of hidden cameras in hotels to answer these questions so that you can have a better picture of the real situation and know the risk and what to do.
Some hotels do have hidden cameras in private rooms for guests. Some reports confirm this. But it is not clear how prevalent the practice is, as it is technically illegal in several states. Most at risk are high-profile people. You can check if a hidden camera is present visually through a network scan or an RF scanner or lens detector.
Reports of Hidden Cameras in Hotels
We present a small sample of reports where hidden cameras were found in private hotel rooms.
An investigation by Inside Edition revealed a hotel worker in Florida, while pretending to make bathroom repairs in a room occupied by two women, installed a hidden camera in the shower. In another hotel in Florida, it was installed in the bathroom floor vent.
The US is not alone in this problem. A police investigation in South Korea in 2019 revealed 1,600 unsuspecting victims of hidden cameras in a network of 42 motel rooms. The cameras were attached to a live-streaming service watched by thousands of paying customers in a shocking invasion of privacy.
These hidden cameras were located inside hair dryer mounts and sockets. A guest from the United States claimed a recording of her was even used to blackmail her.
How Worried Should You Be?
Officially, hotels are not supposed to have hidden cameras in their rooms.
Some hotels say the cameras are only placed in public and shared areas, such as hallways and lobbies, for security reasons. The risk of liability is too huge for them to risk hiding cameras to record the private activities of their guests.
In over 13 states, it is illegal to spy on guests. But on a federal level, the law is unclear. In fact, there is no clear law against it, except where authorization is obtained for particular subjects.
In practice, you are more likely to be a target of a hidden camera recording if you are a high-profile person. Females especially are vulnerable to intimate photos and recordings being made and celebrities and politicians for secret or sensitive information. The risk is less for ordinary people.
The Extent of Hidden Camera Usage in Hotels
An IPX1031 survey conducted in 2019 showed that 11% of people found hidden cameras in their hotel rooms .
This doesn’t consider the proportion that did not find a hidden camera but where there was one, so the actual use of hidden cameras is probably higher. The hidden cameras were inside fake smoke detectors, fans, and lights. A police investigation clarified [qtd in KTNV, 2019]:
"Hidden cameras are an emerging trend, not only in rental properties but in hotel rooms too. And they are not placed there by the hotels."
In one particular case in Mexico, a hotel staffer placed a hidden camera . An alert tourist spotted him accessing its view via a laptop. Although the hotel management terminated his employment, it remains unclear exactly how prevalent hidden camera usage is in hotels and who else is behind using them.
Checking a Hotel Room for Hidden Cameras
An investigator decided to check a random hotel for hidden cameras using four methods: visual inspection, network scan, RF scanner, and lens detector.
By visual inspection first, he spotted a small camera that was recording to a memory card on top of a painting in a bathroom (see photo below). It was neither wired nor wireless or wi-fi enabled.
The man then conducted a network scan using his mobile wi-fi enabled smartphone. Using a free app called Net Analyzer, he checked what other devices were connected to the hotel room’s wi-fi network. He noticed two unidentified devices besides two of his own.
Using an RF Scanner
He then used a K18 hidden camera detector to test an RF scanner in a real-world situation.
The RF detector helped find a pen that was giving off radio signals. Opening it confirmed it had a hidden camera, although it was turned off. It was a non-wifi local storage device.
Further sweeping of the hotel room revealed another camera near the TV. A Logitech camera was hidden behind it. This one was plugged into the wall and was transmitting live.
Using a Lens Detector
The router was also transmitting an RF signal, as you would expect, but there was no hidden camera. One thing the investigator missed (due to human error) was a USB adaptor with a hidden camera that was discovered later. It was a plug-in type of hidden camera with a micro-SD card inside that was recording directly.
This type of hidden camera would have been easier to detect with the lights turned off and using the red filter on the same RF detector. In this mode, you look for any glare through the detector’s hole. If a lens is present, it will reflect, although barely visible in this case, as a small white dot (see the picture below on the right).
What to Look for
If you are staying at a hotel, you should look for the following in particular if you suspect or are worried about a hidden camera being used:
Things that stand out or look out of place in the hotel room because they were not mentioned online, such as an extra lamp or alarm clock.
Look particularly at the bedrooms and bathrooms because those are places where guests especially do not want hidden cameras to be.
The Tools You Can Use
As in the example described earlier, an RF detector is a professional way to check for a hidden camera.
When using one, note that a beep does not necessarily mean a surveillance device is present. It could also be, for example, wiring inside the wall. Bug sweeping carefully with an RF detector should take at least 10 to 15 minutes.
The short answer to whether hotels have hidden cameras is maybe. It is certainly possible, though.
A few cases were highlighted above where hidden cameras have been found in private hotel rooms. One US survey reported that 11% of hotel guests found one. Stay safe by doing a visual inspection, scanning the wi-fi network, and using an RF detector and lens detector if you are very concerned. Check the bedrooms and bathrooms in particular.
(1) Austin Carter. Study says guests are finding hidden cameras inside rental properties, hotel rooms. KTNV. Retrieved from https://www.ktnv.com/news/study-finds-guests-are-finding-hidden-cameras-inside-rental-properties-hotel-rooms. 2019, July 29.
(2) Jack Hobbs. Hotel guests catches staffer going through belongings using hidden camera. New York Post. Retrieved from https://shariqschool.wixsite.com/writing. 2022, October 11.