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Exposing spy cameras: A disturbing trend

As cameras get smaller and prices come down, investigators say they're seeing an increase in instances where they're being illegally used to violate your privacy. (WWMT)

There was a time when cameras were easy to spot, but those days are long gone. As a result, investigators say they’re having to increasingly deal with the ramifications of privacy violations.

Michigan State Police Lt. Chuck Christensen said he has seen more instances of people breaking the law by using incredibly small cameras, often disguised as a pen, clock or key-chain.

“You would never know they were in the room with you,” Christensen said.

Michigan law forbids the installation or placement of devices “for observing, recording, transmitting, photographing or eavesdropping” in private places unbeknownst to those who live in such areas.

Those convicted of doing so could be sentenced to prison and fined thousands of dollars depending on the circumstances.

Of course, the law does not apply to those who are using cameras in their own homes or private places for the purposes of security, as long as the devices are not placed in bathrooms or used in a way that would promote lewd activity.

“You cannot put a recording device in a bathroom - and there are other areas that are deemed private, that you can’t put a camera in,” Christensen said.

Yet that’s exactly what some are doing in West Michigan.

A 22-year-old Kalamazoo County man, Reece Vanderveen, was recently arrested by police after a a hidden camera was set up inside a bathroom in a neighborhood home. According to the probable cause hearing, there was concern that at least one person, an 18-year-old, was a captured on camera. Vanderveen was charged with eavesdropping.

In Van Buren County, at a popular restaurant, an employee was recently arrested after admitting to disguising a camera inside a clock and placing the clock inside the employee changing room. That man is now facing charges.

In Portage, a woman who was showering at the YMCA noticed a small box of tissues on the ground, only to find that a camera was inside the box. That camera was later traced to a former employee, who faced four counts of unlawful surveillance as a result.

“I think the biggest thing people need to understand today, versus 20 years ago, is that depending on what you’re doing it’s probably wise to make an assumption that you are on camera,” Christensen said.

He said there’s another disturbing trend he has noticed as hidden cameras become more prevalent.

“I can tell you many of the cases we’re seeing, is where it’s an eavesdropping-type situation with a hidden camera stemming from a domestic relationship or a dating relationship,” he said. “If you’re consenting to a recording, just understand that once it is made, it can go anywhere.”

According to the New York Times, in South Korea the problem on unlawful surveillance is so bad that the government is having crews inspect 35,000 bathrooms for hidden cameras.

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