At 2 a.m., a woman walked into the bathroom to take a shower not knowing that there was a spy camera hidden in a ventilation opening of the bathroom ceiling. An undercover reporter with the Chinese Communist Party’s official media said that he viewed the secretly filmed footage in an online chat group that people had to pay money to enter, and that hundreds of people were watching.
According to a Dec. 22 report from official media “Legal Daily,” China’s spy camera business has become almost ubiquitous to every part of society, with the privacy of the public being sold at very low prices.
The hidden industry of “upskirting” has existed in China for many years, with the reporter having joined numerous chat groups and finding that the current business of selling pictures through upskirting has become increasingly “specialized”; some have their with spy cameras in toilets and hotels, while other offer live broadcasts of upskirting. There are even people who film females who wear skirts in case they can catch the moment when the skirt is accidentally lifted. In addition, business even branches down to professions: flight attendants and students are two of the main victim groups.
The reporter found many online stores on e-commerce platforms selling products such as spy cameras, but the stores do not state this explicitly on their product descriptions. These products are everyday necessities that have been changed into spy cameras, such as lighters, USBs, car keys with night vision, camera-type glasses, rechargeable batteries, and even facial cleansers, electronic alarms, razors, and Bluetooth speakers. The seller said that these can be ultra-long standby cameras, but also remote monitoring cameras, with prices ranging from a few hundred yuan to 2,000 yuan (roughly $310).
There are also modified phones, in which the extra spy camera is extremely hidden. A cell phone camera custom seller said that the modification of the phone looks no different from ordinary phones. The spy camera is on the side of the phone, so if one puts it flat on the table, the items or people next to it can be filmed. This kind of phone is priced at 1,000 or 2,000 yuan ($157 to $314). If the buyer ships their own phone, the modification only costs 120 yuan ($19).
In addition to the above-mentioned cases of intentional spying, nowadays, many people install surveillance cameras in their homes for safety and security. But some people take advantage of this market by using hacker technology to crack and control the home cameras, turning them into spy cameras targeting home owners.
Many home monitors use the default username and password, and the offenders take advantage of that, using hacking software to scan devices for a weak password, and then to break into the cameras. They subsequently use a Trojan horse program to access the camera, so as to remotely control the surveillance camera, to achieve the function of online viewing and playback of surveillance video.
In addition to a variety of spy cameras, there are some cell phone apps that allow phones to take pictures or film when the screen is locked, as well as backstage shooting functions and support for silent photography.
Pictures and videos taken secretly have been sold for a huge profit.
In a number of group chats, hundreds to thousands of pictures or videos—named as “works”—are priced between a few yuan to a few hundred yuan for viewing. Some groups include a one-time membership fee, such as 88 yuan or 128 yuan (equivalent to $14 or $20), to join the group and see the content, which may be updated in the future. Group owners encourage more people to participate by saying if they bring their own “original works,” they can join for free.
There are also people selling decrypted camera IDs—a couple of hundred yuan can buy hundreds of IDs.
In one group chat, some sellers claim that 220 yuan ($35) can buy viewing of 30 cameras of home toilets, private bedrooms, spa massage stores, locker rooms, and hotels; while 320 yuan ($55) can buy viewing of 60 cameras and 420 yuan ($65) can buy access to 100 cameras. Also, the higher the price, the more private the location of the camera.
Spy camera shooters make money because it can all be sold over and over again at no additional cost to the seller. According to a case published on China’s official court website in June this year, each camera can generate 100 invitation codes for 100 people to watch online at the same time.
Apart from selling the pictures, some sellers use a faster approach—blackmailing the victim. According to an analysis article by official media Pengpai.com in March this year, nearly 30 percent of the sellers take this approach.
Weak Prevention and Crackdown
Almost every major city in China has had reports of spy cameras filming in hotels, from hostels to five-star hotels, and the reports have been of increasing frequency in recent years.
A report from Sohu.com in 2019 quoted a hotel owner with 10 years of experience saying, legally speaking, that the hotel does not have to bear any collateral responsibility in the case of spy camera photo-taking. Hotels have no incentive to do a better job protecting customer privacy and cover the costly and complicated tests involved in checking for spy cameras.
Although the CCP has ostensibly cracked down on spy camera phototaking, penalties for offenders remain very light.
According to Article 42 of the CCP’s Public Security Management Punishment Law, anyone who peeps, secretly films, eavesdrops, or invades the privacy of others shall be detained for not more than five days or fined not more than 500 yuan ($78). In more serious cases, they shall be detained for five to 10 days, and fined not more than 500 yuan.
In March, Zhou from Xiamen City was sentenced to 6 months in prison and fined 3,000 yuan ($470) for “illegal control of a computer system” after he illegally cracked 235 cameras on 43 devices.
Mr. Lai Yiming, a media personality living in Japan, told The Epoch Times that the nature of the Chinese regime dictates that police have no interest in cracking down on spy camera photo crimes.
He said, “The main job of the CCP police is to maintain the stability of the CCP regime, and ordinary people are the target of police surveillance and crackdown, so how can they provide good service to those under their control?”
Kane Zhang contributed to this report.