Surveillance cameras are getting smaller. But are the laws keeping up? (Supplied: Craig Mitchell)
They are small, cheap and effective in catching criminals, but how would you feel about a remote-controlled security camera recording you in the living room of a rental?
- Surveillance cameras are increasingly being used inside homes, as well as outside
- Many cameras can stream vision live to mobile devices anywhere in the world
- Queensland law around civil surveillance and privacy is under review
Sunshine Coast lawyer, Travis Schultz, who also has offices in Brisbane and the Gold Coast, said there was a gap in Queensland legislation when it came to the use of security cameras around the home.
And as technology gets more advanced, hidden cameras are being placed in every day household items like towel rails and smoke monitors to illegally spy on people in the bathroom.
A 50-year-old man on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast was arrested and charged last week with rape, sexual assault, and secretly recording a number of his female flatmates using hidden cameras in different homes over a period of five years.
In a separate case earlier this month, 44-year-old Conrad Cosgrove, who ran a farming property at Elimbah, pleaded guilty to “recording in breach of privacy” after a Belgian backpacker found six cameras in his bedroom and more in the shower.
Detective Senior Sergeant Daren Edwards it was the third case of similar nature in the spotlight in recent weeks on the Sunshine Coast alone.
So where is the balance between the right to have a camera to protect your home, and the risk that cameras can be used for the wrong reasons or simply invade your privacy?
Surveillance moving inside the home
Craig Mitchell, who owns security surveillance outlet, Ozspy, said more people were buying security cameras for use inside their homes instead of just outside.
“You will see them in the lounge room, dining room and in areas where there may be valuables, whereas a few years ago that used to be very rare,” he said.
Cameras used to be placed outside homes, but security surveillance supplier Craig Mitchell says more people are installing them inside too. (Supplied: Craig Mitchell)
The cameras can be motion-activated, and live-streamed to a mobile device anywhere in the world.
They can be as small as a sugar cube, or look like smoke detectors.
“Most of it [surveillance equipment] is sold under the guise of crime detection, but like every product, they can be misused,” Mr Mitchell said.
He said it was important to obtain legal advice on privacy laws around the use of these cameras, particularly in rentals.
Here is where it gets confusing
Sunshine Coast lawyer, Travis Schultz says legislation needs to change to protect individuals’ privacy. (Supplied: Travis Schultz)
The installation and use of CCTV is regulated under state laws, and in Queensland it is an offence to record video of people without consent in a place they would expect to be private, like the bedroom, bathroom or change room.
The laws are under review by the Queensland Law Reform Commission, who will balance the need for personal privacy against legitimate surveillance uses.
Mr Schultz said the legislation needed to change, as there was no law to stop someone from recording in a lounge room or another part of the house.
“We don’t have the legislation in Queensland to deal with this,” Mr Schultz said.
“In Queensland you are protected in bathrooms, but not in the lounge room.
“You can be engaging in lawful sexual activity in the lounge room and not realise [you are being recorded]. It’s a real issue that needs legislative intervention.”
The rules for short-term rentals
For short-term rentals such as those listed via Airbnb or Stayz, companies have their own policies regarding the use of surveillance cameras.
Stayz Head of PR, Simone Scoppa, said homeowners who listed their property “have to say in the property description where they have security cameras located”.
There are rules around where security cameras can be placed in short-term rentals managed by Stayz and Airbnb. (Supplied: Tekno electro solutions)
There were also rules about where they could be placed.
“They’re only allowed in exterior areas where you would expect security cameras,” she said.
“Surveillance devices at a property must be used for security purposes only.”
The physical location of those devices had to be noted on the listing.
Anyone who violated the guideline would be given 24 hours to fix it, or would be delisted.
Airbnb had a similar policy.
“Airbnb has strict policies on the use of security cameras in listings and we take reports of any violations extremely seriously,” an Airbnb spokesman said.
They were also “never” allowed in bathrooms, bedrooms or to be hidden, and hosts needed to “fully disclose security cameras before a reservation”.
How to detect a hidden camera
Those who were still worried they might be secretly recorded could check for cameras themselves.
Mr Mitchell said one could buy a camera detector for around $90, which made the lens of hidden cameras “sparkle” when looking through them.
An example of a hidden camera, placed inside a smoke alarm and discovered by police. (Supplied: Queensland Police)
A cheaper alternative was to use your smart phone.
“If you turn off the lights and look through a phone camera that has night vision, you might be able to see the [hidden] cameras glowing at night,” Mr Mitchell said.