Because states across the U.S. enforce a variety of laws regarding hidden cameras, their usage can get a little legally murky. In general, home video and recording devices installed in property that you own – which may also be owned, for example, by your info-hungry spouse during a divorce – are legal, but may violate privacy rights if other occupants are unaware of them. Of course, before you consult your lawyer about the potential legality of recording devices in your home, you've got to find those bugs and hopefully block them – and that process is thankfully a little more straightforward than complex state laws.
Check Your Wi-Fi
Before you can block recording devices, you've got to find them. Just like everything from your Alexa to your Nintendo Switch, the majority of modern eavesdropping gadgets are connected to Wi-Fi, enabling them to remotely stream their recordings to an off-site computer. As such, the first step for finding hidden recording devices in your home is checking your Wi-Fi network for suspicious devices.
To do so, you'll need to access your wireless router's settings. Though the process may vary across routers, you can typically do this by logging into your account page at your service provider's website (or the associated app), which enables you to manage the devices connected to your router or hotspot. If you see any devices that you don't recognize connected to your Wi-Fi network, remove them from the list of registered devices to prevent them from streaming their recordings over the internet.
In some cases, more sophisticated devices rely on their own hotspots or SIM cards to access the internet without hopping onto your home Wi-Fi network. Use your computer or smartphone to check for new Wi-Fi networks that don't belong to you or neighbors – you may have to take additional actions (such as Wi-Fi jammers) to block the bug's own network.
Similarly, consumer-grade radio frequency detectors can scan for transmitters as you move the detector around your space, alerting you to radio frequencies with a beep or visual graph. In the latter case, be particularly wary of signals in the 10 Mhz to 8 Mhz range, a common frequency used by commercial bugs.
Make a Physical Sweep
It may be 2019, but finding a hidden microphone or camera still requires some old-fashioned snooping. Check your home for any new or out of place objects, even those that have been shifted just slightly – remember, modern eavesdropping devices are often micro-sized. While hidden recorders disguised as other (often functional) objects come in a huge range of shapes and styles, some common examples include pens, USB flash drives, USB charging cables and wall chargers, wrist bands and watches, Bluetooth-style speakers, alarm clocks, glasses, light bulbs, books, smoke detectors, phone-charging docks and even picture frames.
As you sweep for these suspicious objects, scan the walls of your house for small drill holes, a common hiding spot for bugs. While checking for these small details, keep an eye out for any wires that you don't recognize. While many small listening devices run on battery power, others still rely on AC power. In particular, look for USB, micro-USB or USB-C power cords, similar to the charging cables you use to juice up your phone. Turning off the lights and making a visual scan also helps identify any blinking power lights on cameras, while sweeping nooks and crannies with a flashlight may reveal the glint of a hidden lens.
Hidden Camera Blocking
In the case of nanny cam-like objects that disguise cameras or microphones, simply remove them from your home, keeping them intact somewhere secure (should they be required as evidence). Tape, spackle or caulk over any drill holes containing hidden listening devices. If you get lucky and find a wired power source for a hidden recording gadget, simply unplugging it may be enough to stop it from recording.
On the more technological side, a white noise machine or just a white noise app can help conceal sensitive audio in your home, preventing even active mics from picking up usable recordings. Likewise, Wi-Fi signal jammers – typically effective in a range of up to about 130 feet – can render surrounding Wi-Fi connections useless. That means you might have to work out of a coffee shop for a while, but it's a better alternative than being bugged.
If you're still not 100 percent certain that you've located and blocked any potential surveillance devices in your home, turning to the pros is also an option. Professional counter-surveillance services pack detection equipment that goes far beyond the capabilities of consumer-grade gadgets and can advise you on the disposal or disabling of anything they detect.
- SentelTech: Legalities of Using a Hidden Camera: How to Know When It's Legal and Illegal
- Morgan & Barbary: Is It Legal to Spy on Your Spouse?
- Wired: How to Sweep for Bugs and Hidden Cameras
- Xfinity: How to Manage and Remove Registered Xfinity Wi-Fi Devices
- SpyCentre Security: Best Hidden Voice Recorders of 2018 Review
- The Signal Jammer: What Is a Wi-Fi Jammer and Why You Might Need One
- Look for unexplainable wires, blinking colored lights and odd looking openings in ceilings to find surveillance equipment.
- Confronting a boss, spouse or roommate about hidden cameras or microphones can lead to a physical confrontation. Gather as much evidence as you can and contact the police instead.
As a freelance writer and small business owner with a decade of experience, Dan has contributed legal- and finance-oriented content to diverse sources including Chron, Fortune, Zacks.com, Motley Fool and MSN Money, among others.