“Beware of the hidden cameras on stairs and escalators. This is a frequently photographed area.” Are you familiar with this warning at subway stations? Even if you were not aware of the warning, most Sookmyungians use their purses to hide their backside when going up stairs or escalators. Students wearing short skirts or shorts tend to do this behavior because they are worried that someone might be watching them and there might be hidden cameras in the area. Police stations have declared war against these hidden cameras. As such, the hidden camera situation has become a hot potato nowadays.
Current Status: Spying On You
During summer vacation, you might have noticed this warning: ‘Plain-clothes officer on a duty. No hidden cameras.’ This summer all of Korea was shocked by the waterpark hidden camera case. It woke people to the danger of hidden cameras invading privacy and is another method of sexual harassment. Hidden cameras were initially installed to collect evidence from unexpected or dangerous situations, but as technology has advanced and access to hidden cameras has become easy, the cameras have started being used for improper reasons. Currently, on the internet, one can purchase a hidden camera from less than 100,000 won to more advanced styles for more than 1,000,000 won. These cameras, however, are all high-quality products. Surfing the internet for micro-cameras, it is easy to find mind-shattering designs that include screws, pens, keys, glasses, and neckstrings, all of which are ordinary objects seen frequently in everyday life. After customer complaints about TMON's micro-camera service, it banned the sale of those as of September 7th. However, internet shopping malls such as 11st and Interpark still sell micro-cameras. Regarding this, Interpark authorities claimed, “A distribution corporation cannot ban a seller’s products.” and 11st representative said, “Micro-cameras are not illegal.”1 Although micro-cameras are not illegal, they are used for many illegal operations.
After its rise to notorious fame, statistics have come pouring out and especially in regards to hidden camera crimes that are occurring at subway stations. According to the Minister of Land, Infrastructure and Transport, hidden camera crime has increased 183% from 2012 to 2014.2 In the same manner, hidden cameras are threatening the privacy of women because the pictures or videos were taken for the sole purpose of sexual harassment. Overall, criminals charged with hidden camera crimes have more than doubled every year from 2010 to 2014; in fact, 2014 had 892 cases.3 Compared to 2009 when there were no hidden camera crimes, this is a huge concern. However, there are many more cases of hidden camera criminal activities that are hard to catch and most of the time, the victims are unaware of the recording or that they were being photographed.
Danger Level: Severe
Hidden camera crimes are hard to crack, but they are also hard to control after the crime is uncovered. The damage to the victim is huge at times. It is easy to find hidden camera recordings suddenly appearing on adult websites or on SNSs. The most problematic site is Soranet, which is an adult website running with a foreign server. The site posts thousands of ordinary people’s hidden camera pictures and videos a day, and allows viewers to make countless sexually insulting comments. Content on this site is then spread through Ilbae, or on a SNS. Often the victim faces are clearly visible and the posting supplies the person’s personal information like name, age, and so on. With the damage being more and more serious, the government has declared this recording a criminal offense and has convicted two people for the crime in 2013, made 7 convictions in 2014, and in the first half of 2015, there have been 3 convictions so far.4 These numbers are absurd considering the number of daily uploaded content. Also, even though a person is convicted, it is rare for the investigators to recover all the illegal content. Most of it has already been uploaded, so damage control is next to impossible.
Convicts tend to receive only light punishments. A hidden camera case on March 22nd in which a 25-year-old woman said the accused was filming beneath her skirt. After apologizing to the woman but refusing to hand over his smartphone, the woman took him to the nearest police station to get the pictures erased, but the police at the station told her to return to the subway station and report the case to the subway station police. There she was told to return to a nearby police station. During this running around in circles, for more than 2 hours she had to remain side by the side with the person who had filmed her private areas. This kind of insensitivity had also occurred at Seoul National University (SNU) as well. At Seoul National University, one teaching assistant (TA)’s hidden camera criminal actions were seen by many people. The TA had taken about 20 pictures of more than 10 victims, but what was the most surprising fact about this case was that SNU introduced a lawyer to aid the TA in the court case. Bang Yeseul at the Korea Sexual Violence Relief Center said, ”This case just proves how trivial people view hidden camera crimes. The good thing is that although SNU is siding with the TA, the TA cannot escape public criticism.”5 The entire country has become restless after the crime was brought to light.
Hidden cameras, themselves, are not problematic; it is the way they are being used by certain people that causes such serious damage. Voyeurism is spreading. Most hidden camera cases are crimes that fill the need by certain individuals to peep through other people’s lives. This need has been strengthen by the desire of reality, and naturalness, which cannot be completely achieved by reality shows. The Korea Maxim, an adult magazine, recently had an article about choosing a good hidden camera and in the article there were images of how to film or take photographs of women. The existence of this article has resurfaced by media and the public. The consensus is that Korea is becoming a voyeur’s country. Soranet, for example has 400,000 Twitter followers with whom to share and spread site addresses, thereby worsening the voyeurism problem. Hidden cameras trigger the spread of voyeurism and on those internet sites many Koreans are cheering, celebrating, and encouraging voyeurism crimes.
Vaccination in Place for Work
To remove hidden camera crimes from daily life, universities need to provide hidden camera detecting services. Recently, Sookmyung Women’s University thoroughly searches its entire campus, especially the toilets and shower rooms for hidden cameras. The service was provided to ensure a clean campus. Like this, other universities should establish preventative measures like seminars that inform students about hidden cameras, where they can expect to encounter them, and how to avoid becoming a victim. Also, hidden camera detectors should be made available for borrowing at universities by students, using a similar method to the reservation system for laptops. Everyday inspection would be the best option, but it is not realistic. A rental system is more sensible, so students would have access to a hidden micro-camera detector and use it at places in campus or in their homes.
Also, hidden camera crimes need constant attention from students, for they are potential victims. Every police officer and professional unanimously declare that people should be cautious of hidden cameras, but there are been few solutions proposed. Shining any sort of weak light from a smartphone around, and even just a shine or spark could be coming from a hidden camera. With the possibilities being endless, hidden cameras could be anywhere. It is almost impossible to be 100% safe and secure. Therefore, until today’s hidden camera crime culture is silenced or an inexpensive hidden camera detector is made available, one should refrain from using public toilets or shower rooms, but if the need to use them arises, don’t try look around too much and try to conceal your face. On a positive note, there is a petition being distributed for signing to shut down the adult site Soranet on AVAAZ; it is a global online petition website. Each individual’s signature is a step closer to stopping hidden camera crimes.
Lastly, laws and systems need to consider victims more and truly punish persons convicted of such crimes. Current criminal law only states: ‘Pictures or videos that cause sexual appetite or humiliation to others, and judgment of this will be based on common sense displayed by regular citizens.’ With such vague standards and no detailed law articles and clauses, criminals are escaping prosecution due to loop holes. For instance, in 2015 a man who took over 40 disturbing pictures of women wearing a leggings and skinny jeans was found not guilty because he claimed it was done in the interest of fashion. However, taking someone’s picture without permission should be recognized as a crime and an invasion of privacy. Also, common sense should not be the means of determining guilt because the suspect’s sexual intent and criminal intent cannot be measured by a typical citizen’s standard of common sense. A clearer standard would be to look at victims’ humiliation and violated feelings.
When the War Ends
Requesting someone’s phone number or e-mail address in order to become friends in the cyber world is easy, and it is rare to find an individual who would deny such a request. However, if the request were worded like, “May I have your contact number and e-mail address so that I can follow you on Facebook, Kakao Talk, and Google you? I just want to find out more about your interests and perhaps even cover you in my next new story.”6 Most people would likely refuse the request. At TEDGlobal 2014, Glenn Greenwald gave a lecture about ‘Why Privacy Matters’ and provided a personal example of himself asking a similar question to people who deny the importance of privacy. He claims that the valuing of one’s privacy is embedded in human instinct, and even people who deny the importance of privacy always reject requests when they feel they are about to be exposed to others. Reawaken by this example, one must acknowledge that the hidden camera should not be view lightly and that the taking of pictures or videos without prior consent is a violation of one’s privacy.
1 Choi Donghee, “TMON Stopped Selling Hidden Cameras …,” Global News, September 9, 2015
2 Seo Jihye, Kang Seungyeon, “Matated Hidden Camera’s Variety…,” Herald Economy, July 21, 2015
3 Lee Sunglak, “[TF scene] Micro Hidden Camera, It’s Aimed at You…,” THE FACT, July 8, 2015
4 Kang Seungyeon, “Floods of Hidden Camera Pictures …,” Herald Economy, July 21, 2015
5 Song Sunghwan, “[Exclusive] Seoul National University, Dispute…,” EBS NEWS, July 28, 2015
6 Nam Eunice, “Why Privacy Matters: TEDGLOBAL 2014…,” TEDxBusan, October 12, 2014