Found a hidden webcam at work
July 31, 2007 8:20 AM   Subscribe

Hey all, long time listener, first time caller. So... um. Yea. Yesterday while at work I leaned back in my chair and stuck my foot up in the corner of the underside of my desk. I felt something funny and leaned down to check it out.... somebody installed a webcam pointed at my crotch. Yay.

It appeared to be a reasonably expensive model and wasn't well hidden. But it was intricately plumbed through the guts of my desk. It had a powersource and an antenae (sp). Any way I can figure out the range of this device? Any ideas? I'm a guy by the way.
I strangely don't feel violated, I feel like John Travolta in Pulp Fiction when he says something to the effect of, "it's worth getting your car keyed if you can catch the person doing it." Anyway, Thanks.
posted by hatchetjack to Computers & Internet (61 answers total) 112 users marked this as a favorite
 
Well, to toot an oft-played tune here, I think you should consult a lawyer. Take pictures. See what the cords connect to. And then sue them for sexual harassment and whatever else.

Oh yeah, and get a new job where they don't spy on your junk.
posted by hermitosis at 8:24 AM on July 31, 2007 [2 favorites]


My first instinct is to tell you to go straight to HR: do not pass go, do not touch it, do not tell anyone else until you do this (unless you hear in the next few hours that this was some sort of bizarre practical joke recently planted by a coworker "friend".)

A couple questions, though (not to diminish the possibility that men can be sexually harassed at the workplace as well): was there someone else working at that desk more recently? do you share it with anyone who might have it installed for their own (ick) solitary after-hours activities?
posted by availablelight at 8:27 AM on July 31, 2007


For most of those wireless cams, the range is 100-200 feet max. I'm not really sure how you should proceed, but I'd definitely take a lot of pictures and put them in a safe place before you do anything else.
posted by AaRdVarK at 8:30 AM on July 31, 2007


Tell HR or it will be discovered (cleaning staff maybe) and you will be blamed for installing it.
posted by damn dirty ape at 8:33 AM on July 31, 2007


PS Motivations aside (i.e. it was placed there by someone else using the desk, or to capture a different crotch other than yours), just document it, go to HR right now, and get it addressed ASAP.

Also, the fact that it seems live and intricately set up means that it is probably no over-grown frat boy practical joke.

Whatever the motivation, I don't think you want to have crotch-cam still streaming live to the ether in the time it would take you to play Nancy Drew on this yourself; tampering with it would not only tip off whomever placed it there, but would alert your employer that you did not report the problem immediately. If it was placed there for industrial espionage reasons, or any other reason having to do more with the company's own internal problems rather than you, they are not going to be pleased.
posted by availablelight at 8:34 AM on July 31, 2007


are you sure this was done for sexual reasons? Could it be possible that your boss wants to gauge how much time you spend at your desk? Do you take long lunches or leave early? I'd lawyer up before I went to HR because if this was done by your company you could be in line for a lucrative cash settlement - or at least that's what they guys on late night tv commercials say.
posted by any major dude at 8:42 AM on July 31, 2007


Mentioned this to a friend who said "the best way of determining the range is getting a receiver of the same brand and walking around with it. With just the transmitter he can make some estimates or even look up the specs. But he really needs to get the matching reciever and wander around with it." He also suggested face punching, but I like the HR suggestions better myself.
posted by waterlily at 8:51 AM on July 31, 2007


Another vote for: take pics aplenty, immediately. Whomever installed it may already know you've seen it, and it'll disappear.

Next, go to HR. HR exists to protect the company, not you, but they're the appropriate venue for alerting someone.

Do NOT mention that you have pics of the device to HR! Do not, do not, do not!

Once you've seen how HR is proceeding, you can choose to lawyer up or not. IF you choose to lawyer up, tell them you have pics, and that you didn't tell HR you have pics. This information will be an exceedingly useful weapon.
posted by aramaic at 8:54 AM on July 31, 2007 [2 favorites]


Could it be possible that your boss wants to gauge how much time you spend at your desk?

I don't think crotch-cam's the best way of going about this, unless it's a new management technique that I've missed. Give it a few weeks, it'll appear on a Dilbert strip.

Seriously though, take pictures and go straight to your HR team. Regardless of the reasons for it being there and how you personally feel, it's creepy and just wrong. Someone's probably paying to watch a live feed of you at this very minute!
posted by Nugget at 8:55 AM on July 31, 2007


Also: document the living hell out of everything. Note down the time & date you discovered the device.

Note down the time & date you asked HR for a moment of their time. Note down the time & date you actually spoke to someone in HR. Document every single piece of interaction that ensues, and do not let the documents out of your sight.
posted by aramaic at 8:58 AM on July 31, 2007


Also please report back! That is crazy.
posted by zemblamatic at 9:00 AM on July 31, 2007


I'm with the crowd that advices that you take pictures. Do you have a camera phone? If not, can you have someone bring you a camera? I'd stay put and not leave your desk. There's a chance that the perpetrator knows you have discovered the videocam and could remove it when you head out of the building to get/buy a camera. In additon to taking the pictures (and not telling HR) be sure to document everything from this point forward -- notes of conversations (who, when, etc.), e-mails, etc.
posted by ericb at 9:00 AM on July 31, 2007


For most of those wireless cams, the range is 100-200 feet max.

Unless they've got it connected to a wireless network (assuming there are many in your office). In which case it's possible to access the cam from anywhere in the internet.

Take a few pictures. Don't touch it (don't want to smudge anyone else's fingerprints. Talk to HR as has been said. Ask for a temporary relocation to another cubicle or office if possible.
posted by Burhanistan at 9:03 AM on July 31, 2007


You SHOULD feel violated. Just imagine if you were a woman and you found a camera pointed *there.* If there was a woman at your desk previously, someone might have been syping on her. I think I would go to HR and tell them that either the company calls the cops, or I'll do it myself. Let them figure out all the Nancy Drew details.

Besides documentation, consider showing it to someone who you trust outside the company, ASAP. Call a friend and ask them to swing by real quick. Just so they can say "yup, I saw it at this time on this day."
posted by Eringatang at 9:03 AM on July 31, 2007


Take pictures, talk to a lawyer, but then: Make a sign, in a clearly legible font, that says "I've contacted a lawyer about this, and if it doesn't come down by tomorrow there will be consequences", and put that sign in front of the camera.
posted by pdb at 9:03 AM on July 31, 2007


Since this is inside of a work network, there may be some kind of traceable information on the IT logs somewhere. Any serious investigation should be be able to root out the perv. Maybe. I also wonder if the receiver end would require certain drivers or software on the perv's computer that he might forget to clean up should he just remove the receiver.

Also, do you have any friendly coworkers you trust who could keep a discreet eye on your desk to make sure the perv doesnt try to clean his tracks or remove the camera whilst you are away from your desk talking to PR?

Good luck.
posted by jlowen at 9:09 AM on July 31, 2007


Seconding aramaic's advice that you take pictures but DO NOT let HR or your boss know that you have them, especially until you see how they resolve the matter.
posted by hermitosis at 9:10 AM on July 31, 2007


Don't do what pdb says. This is a gross violation of your privacy, and whoever did it should absolutely suffer severe consequences for doing it.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 9:10 AM on July 31, 2007


If it's connected to whatever it's connected to via WiFi, you could use some packet-sniffing utilities to see if you can determine where the feed actually goes.
posted by oaf at 9:12 AM on July 31, 2007


Whatever happens, I demand a followup to us later on.
posted by John Kenneth Fisher at 9:24 AM on July 31, 2007 [4 favorites]


Some office surveillance happens with the blessings of the entire upper management food chain, so I'd say photos are of the essence here. Certain uses are legal - but Junk-cam certainly isn't...

Casually dropthe phrase my associate who works at a newspaper if you get the sudden runaround from H.R.

And do please keep us posted.
posted by bhance at 9:27 AM on July 31, 2007


Not all webcams use wifi. If it does, it might or might not be on the corporate network (I'd guess not, because I doubt corporate put it there). Since you let a day go by since discovering it, it's pretty likely the person on the receiving end has removed the corresponding equipment. With the lack of details on your office environment (how big? what kind of technology? what kind of interpersonal behavior is tolerated?) I'm not sure what else to suggest.

I imagine this occuring in an office I used to work in, of a few thousand people, where I was responsible for IT security. I would immediately get the building security guards, as many HR and most senior management as I could, and put the surrounding several hundred feet in lockdown, and search each desk and system individually. It'd be a long day (and night).

Take pictures, go to HR immediately afterward, as everyone else has said.
posted by These Premises Are Alarmed at 9:28 AM on July 31, 2007


If it's connected to whatever it's connected to via WiFi, you could use some packet-sniffing utilities to see if you can determine where the feed actually goes.

That was my first thought. Wireshark has served me well in the past.
posted by jmd82 at 9:32 AM on July 31, 2007 [1 favorite]


not only HR needs to be contacted but the cops. file a criminal complaint. get a lawyer right away. do not mess around with this. the person in question may have worse motives than just stalking/perving you, which is bad enough. how do you know he isn't tracking your movements in order to plan abducting you? you don't - so take no chance.
posted by krautland at 9:32 AM on July 31, 2007


Definitely take pictures. Preferably, with your own, personal camera, if possible. Why? Because, if you use a company camera, the pics (and all copies) can be confiscated from you as being company property. Bye-bye evidence.

IANAL, but, if I knew you had taken pics, that would be one of the first things I would look into. Just depends on which side of the "complete dickheads" fence the company wants to come down on.
posted by Thorzdad at 9:36 AM on July 31, 2007


Calling the cops isn't a bad idea, depending on how you think HR will handle it. I wouldn't, because I would expect that I'd have a better chance of finding out who was doing it than the cops, but that's just me.
posted by These Premises Are Alarmed at 9:36 AM on July 31, 2007


1. Take pics.
2. Maybe even show a witness you trust.
3. Talk to HR.
4. Talk to a lawyer immediately.
5. Document every action and inaction, everything that occurs after reporting the incident.

My own guess is that this was installed on the off chance a girl would sit at your desk who wears a skit and possibly no underwear. Who knows really how many of these things have been placed somewhere in your office? This is wrong, wrong, wrong. You have to think about how you would feel if this were being done somewhere your hypothetical daughter was working...
posted by xammerboy at 9:41 AM on July 31, 2007


My first action would be to talk to my union rep, but that may not be relevant for you.
posted by MrMoonPie at 9:46 AM on July 31, 2007 [2 favorites]


Thanks for the great advice everybody I appreciate it. I should have described my working conditions a little better. Nobody but me works at my desk. The company I work for is very small only about 12 employees and 6 or so at my location. So for all of you who said... go to HR etc... that isn't really a possiblility.

BUT, we share fairly large office space with a law firm which we sometimes work with but has nothing to do with us as a company. I am almost certain it is someone from the law firm side. In fact, I believe I know who it is and I am about to go to them.

Also for those of you who said not to touch it.... too late... my immediate inclination was to rip the motherfucker out. Which I did indeed. While the prospect of legal action is enticing... for me, confronting the person with his panty cam will be enough satisfaction.

I will report back soon. Thanks again.
posted by hatchetjack at 9:51 AM on July 31, 2007


I've nothing to add to the above, except that speed might be of the essence - if you've been monkeying under the desk, the guilty party might already know that you know - and be taking steps to distance themselves.
posted by Jofus at 9:52 AM on July 31, 2007


And use the preview button.
posted by Jofus at 9:53 AM on July 31, 2007


In fact, I believe I know who it is and I am about to go to them.

because you know this person is balanced and sane enough to not have a weapon in his pocket? don't be a fool. lawyer, cops, supervisors.
posted by krautland at 9:57 AM on July 31, 2007 [1 favorite]


Dismantle. Take to pawn shop. Make money. Leave it to others to worry.
posted by A189Nut at 10:02 AM on July 31, 2007 [2 favorites]


I did some research on the camera and discovered it also is an infrared camera. WTF?
posted by hatchetjack at 10:15 AM on July 31, 2007


What was the point of this askme if the OP ripped out the camera before posting the question and is now going to confront a possible perpetrator in direct contradiction of all the sensible advice on this thread? ValidateMeFilter?
posted by Justinian at 10:19 AM on July 31, 2007 [4 favorites]


Or, to put it a different way; Confronting the guy yourself is a bad idea. This is something that should be handled through proper channels. It is often not just a harmless prank.
posted by Justinian at 10:21 AM on July 31, 2007


Under certain circumstances, an infrared camera can see through clothing.
posted by Comrade_robot at 10:27 AM on July 31, 2007


I'd be tempted to set up a secondary camera, well hidden, covering the entire desk area, recording constantly, to see who approaches the desk. The owner will almost certainly take a quick peek when nobody is around to see if the camera is missing or ran out of juice. The problem is there's only a short amount of time to do this.

Of course how to sync this with legal or employer action I have no idea, but that's where my own strategy would go.
posted by rolypolyman at 10:31 AM on July 31, 2007


Justinian, he didn't ask for the advice we've given. He wanted to know how to figure out the range on the camera.
posted by Eringatang at 10:35 AM on July 31, 2007 [3 favorites]


One more thing to consider, this may not be the only camera which was planted.
posted by caddis at 10:36 AM on July 31, 2007


Okay, Im finding this all hard to believe at this point. Assuming this isnt a prank:

1. Its part of a homebrew security system. A cheap IR camera can pick up motion and see in the dark.

2. The obvious pervert conclusion. an IR camera may be able to see through clothing, but there are real differences between theory and practice.

3. Its there to spy on people other than you. Cleaning staff may have been caught stealing, etc.

4. High tech rodent detector for a place with pest problems. (okay this is stretching)

Regardless, talk to your boss.
posted by damn dirty ape at 10:42 AM on July 31, 2007


If you think you know who planted it that's one thing. But if that turns out to be incorrect, there is also a possibility, albiet unlikely, that the perp could have installed software on your computer that captures keystrokes and screen shots.
posted by toomuch at 10:44 AM on July 31, 2007


OK, I am going to be refreshing this thread all day...
posted by LarryC at 10:47 AM on July 31, 2007


I suppose if you want to take the law into your own hands, that's your business. However, consider the angle that someone who would do this for any motive other than as a joke is probably willing to do it to someone else too. E.g. the best punishment for a rapist is not to go beat the shit out of him; get the law involved, so that he doesn't perpetrate the crime again, against someone else.
posted by Brak at 10:49 AM on July 31, 2007 [1 favorite]


I should add that if the person doing this is a lawyer, the threat of legal punishment is even more significant, given that he/she can be disbarred for such activity.
posted by Brak at 10:51 AM on July 31, 2007 [1 favorite]


What was the point of this askme if the OP ripped out the camera before posting the question and is now going to confront a possible perpetrator in direct contradiction of all the sensible advice on this thread? ValidateMeFilter?

Hold me Justinian. Tighter.


The point was figuring out how far the thing could transmit so I could narrow the field of possibilities. And, though I did a poor job of asking.... if anyone had any ideas about tracing the origins of said camera.

I took the camera to the players on the attorney side of things up here. They were immediately horrified. Not at the absolute and complete creepy violation, but at the absolute and complete (ahem) exposure to liability someone had put them in. I told them that whoever did it had two have two things, interest and access. There is one person who has more of both than anyone else over there. A courier who is not openly, but obvioulsy gay. They confronted the person with the camera and he said that someone was stealing liquor out of the kitchen so he was going to set up a webcam to catch them. He didn't quite explain how an infrared camera pointed at my rig would help find a liquor thief. He's been sent home. I'm not sure if he is going to be fired or not.
posted by hatchetjack at 10:59 AM on July 31, 2007


hatchetjack writes "I did some research on the camera and discovered it also is an infrared camera. WTF?"

IR cam is what you want for covert surveillance in dark spaces (IE: Under a desk).
posted by Mitheral at 11:25 AM on July 31, 2007


They confronted the person with the camera and he said that someone was stealing liquor out of the kitchen so he was going to set up a webcam to catch them. He didn't quite explain how an infrared camera pointed at my rig would help find a liquor thief. He's been sent home. I'm not sure if he is going to be fired or not.
posted by hatchetjack at 1:59 PM on July 31 [+] [!]


Touché
posted by caddis at 11:25 AM on July 31, 2007


[a few comments removed -- please try to keep this on topic, or join the MeTa thread in progress on this question]
posted by jessamyn at 11:27 AM on July 31, 2007


A couple things:

1. IR is used for low light conditions and in circumstances when you do not want humans to see that you are illuminating the area under surveillance. In other words, it is perfect for night time or after hours surveillance - or crotch shots.
2. Liquor stored at work? There is no good reason for that - if someone is stealing your liquor at work (and assuming you're not in the liquor business), webcam spying is just D-U-M, it's far cheaper to take the damn liquor home, where it should be.
3. An IR webcam is not necessary to spot/track someone casually dipping into your liquor stash

Clearly the courier's story is hogwash.
posted by plinth at 11:47 AM on July 31, 2007


plinth - liquor at work? You've never seen a law firm's fridge.
posted by djb at 11:56 AM on July 31, 2007 [1 favorite]


This is probably the last thing you want to hear, but IR cameras + certain optics can see through (thin) clothing. I'd be surprised if denim, say, was "see through" but you never know.
posted by bonehead at 12:15 PM on July 31, 2007


I second DJB's comment - one firm at which I worked had Happy Hour the first Friday of every month.
posted by Lucinda at 12:16 PM on July 31, 2007


". Liquor stored at work? There is no good reason for that."

You lead a sheltered life, friend. Most of my working life I've worked in places with a healthy supply for Friday corporate drinkies.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 12:57 PM on July 31, 2007 [2 favorites]


OP, any updates?
posted by jtfowl0 at 2:22 PM on August 1, 2007


If you want an idea of what this can do, Google Image Search x-ray + voyeur = NSFW. This primarily works with swimsuits, though. Surprisingly I couldn't find any of these sites with a gay theme -- some sort of Rule 34 violation, perhaps.
posted by dhartung at 3:05 PM on August 1, 2007


He's been sent home. I'm not sure if he is going to be fired or not.

I'd be willing to bet he's not going to be back on the premises, ever.
posted by jayder at 6:29 PM on August 1, 2007


I said Whatever happens, I demand a followup to us later on.
posted by John Kenneth Fisher at 2:09 PM on August 8, 2007 [1 favorite]


(drumming fingers on desk)
posted by The corpse in the library at 9:51 AM on October 5, 2007


Why is this thread still open? Hatchetjack, where are you and why have you forsaken us?
posted by jeremias at 5:12 PM on January 4, 2008


>Why is this thread still open?

1 year on AskMe.

...but yeah, I wanted an update too!
posted by pompomtom at 9:43 PM on June 10, 2008 [1 favorite]


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