Fight against covert cameras in Vietnamese daily life

By Thanh Nga, Quynh Nguyen   July 1, 2024 | 05:30 am PT
As soon as she steps into a hotel room, Minh Ly immediately turns off the lights and activates her scanning device, inspecting every corner for hidden cameras.
A surveillance camera. Illustration photo by Pixabay

A surveillance camera. Illustration photo by Pixabay

This has been a routine for the 29-year-old from Hai Ba Trung District, Hanoi, for about three years. Although she is not a public figure, she fears being recorded and having footage of her more private moments spread on illicit websites.

"Every day I see reports and social media posts about hidden camera footage being leaked, and I am scared," Ly explained.

So, she bought a camera detection scanner and always carries it with her when traveling and staying in motels or hotels. She also learned how to detect two-way mirrors, which allow people outside of the room to see her inside, but not vice versa.

Beyond hotels, Ly has also made it a habit to avoid using public restrooms.

Despite her vigilance, she still lives in anxiety, choosing to change clothes under a blanket rather than using the hotel bathroom. And she never dares wear revealing clothing outside her own home.

Fearing hidden cameras, many Vietnamese women like Minh Ly use scanning devices and strict safety measures to protect their privacy. Their fears are not unfounded.

On June 25 morning, Vietnamese fashionista Chau Bui shared a story about discovering a hidden camera disguised as a wristwatch in a restroom at a studio in Ho Chi Minh City. The post garnered hundreds of thousands of reactions, with tens of thousands of comments and shares.

The following day, a 20-year-old female student renting in Ha Dong District, Hanoi, discovered a hidden camera her landlord had placed in her bathroom. Most comments under the posts expressed outrage or concern about becoming unwitting victims.

Vigilance and fear

Similarly wary of hidden cameras, 24-year-old Ngoc Lan from District 3, Ho Chi Minh City, has a strict set of criteria when deciding a room to rent in. She avoids any room that requires sharing a bathroom or has a layout with many nooks and crannies where hidden cameras could easily be placed. Occasionally, she also uses a camera scanner and checks the WiFi for unfamiliar devices.

"Tenants have their own keys, but landlords often have spare keys," Lan said. "If I don’t protect myself, who will?"

Ngoc Lan, during a trip to Hoa Binh, in 2024. Photo courtesy of Lan

Ngoc Lan, during a trip to Hoa Binh, in 2024. Photo courtesy of Lan

A VnExpress survey on June 26 asked readers if they had ever encountered or suspected hidden cameras, and 52% of respondents said yes.

Psychologist Tran Huong Thao from Ho Chi Minh City stated that the public’s fear and the precautionary measures taken by people, especially women, are understandable given the increase in discovered hidden camera incidents.

According to Thao, victims of these incidents can suffer a tarnished reputation and a significant loss in their sense of dignity that can leave them feeling deprived of the right to protect their image. Thus, they live in constant worry. There is also a considerable risk of their images being disseminated online or used for illegal purposes, such as extortion and sexual coercion.

Thao believes the primary reason for this issue is the easy availability of hidden recording devices, even though they are technically illegal in Vietnam, and insufficient penalties for using them.

Illegal but easy

VnExpress’ survey revealed numerous websites and social media groups openly selling mini, ultra-small hidden cameras, with the largest group on Facebook having 32,000 members. Apart from standard cameras, the market offers various types disguised as pens, shirt buttons, lighters, power outlets, screws, wall lamps, clocks, and phone chargers. Prices range from a few hundred thousand to several million dong (VND100,000 equals US$3.93).

Hidden camera devices disguised as lighters, WiFi routers, power outlets, and clocks for sale on social media. Photo by N.T

Hidden camera devices disguised as lighters, WiFi routers, power outlets, and clocks for sale on social media. Photo by N.T

Lawyer Dang Van Cuong, head of the Chinh Phap Law Office in Hanoi, stated that the trade of disguised recording devices and software is a regulated business in Vietnam, permissible only for establishments under the Ministry of Public Security, the Ministry of Defense, or units with proper security certification. However, due to their profitability, these products are widely traded illegally.

Cuong affirmed that the unauthorized collection of personal information is illegal, infringing on privacy and damaging the victim’s dignity, which is protected by law. Victims have the right to demand apologies and compensation for damages.

"Compensation for mental anguish is negotiated between parties," Cuong said. "But if no agreement is reached, the maximum compensation cannot exceed 10 times the State-prescribed base salary."

From July 1, 2024 onwards, the State-prescribed base salary will be VND2.34 million per month.

In the case of the landlord in Ha Dong District who hid a camera in his property’s bathroom, Ha Dong police deemed the act not severe enough for criminal charges and issued an administrative fine of VND12.5 million.

This penalty is seen by many as "too lenient" and "lacking deterrent effect," with concerns that offenders may reoffend, leaving many individuals to continue to live in fear as the practice of hidden camera recording persists.

To reduce such incidents, experts have suggested that authorities better educate the public on local law to raise awareness and compliance with personal privacy rights.

Management of the sale of hidden recording devices should be tightened, with timely and strict enforcement against violations, particularly those involving the illegal dissemination of unauthorized images online, obscene materials, and other acts that severely affect victims’ mental health and well-being, analysts have said.

Otherwise, many will have to persist in fear.

Same old story

Living in fear of her private images being leaked has made Ly’s trips with friends burdensome. She spends a lot of time checking every corner of her room and is always torn between "risking taking a shower" or staying dirty.

For Lan, the stress of not finding a satisfactory room for rent led her and a friend to spend VND10 million per month renting an apartment. Additionally, she shifted her shopping habits from in-store to online after reading about a store that installed cameras in its fitting rooms.

"It is more time-consuming and expensive," Lan said. "But it’s how I protect myself."

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