Government and law enforcement “spying” — be it through use of GPS trackers, triangulating cellphone calls, obtaining online communications, etc. — has been in the news a lot lately. But the technology that allows similar types of spying — and counter-surveillance — is very much available to the average citizen.
Whether it be detecting potential infidelity or making sure a babysitter or elderly caregiver is treating their charges appropriately, Allen Walton, the president of the Cheaters Spy Shop, an online store selling such surveillance gadgets, said everyone from your average Joe to professional athletes, celebrities and politicians have used products from the site.
Although the name of the site might suggest the technology is to catch cheaters in the act, which some of it is, Walton said there are many more uses. Hidden cameras have been used to catch abuse of Alzheimer’s patients in an elderly care home and of an autistic student being verbally abused. Walton said they’re also used for activities like secret shoppers being sent in by businesses to evaluate if a store’s operations are up to snuff.
“Most people don’t really know products like this exist that are readily available to them,” Walton said.
The shop breaks down technologies by intended use, which includes infidelity detection, child, teen, elderly and office safety, and home security.
Here are some of the coolest products:
- iPhone and Android recovery sticks, which help recover data from these devices that might have been deleted.
- A phone call recorder, which Walton said is popular among those who, for legal reasons, need to keep records of their calls and voicemails.
- An audio recorder that looks like an actual pen.
- Would you believe the products will actually record video footage?
- This outdoor camera is actually the exact opposite of the hidden cameras pictured above. It’s a fake meant to deter people from conducting nefarious activity for fear that they might be filmed.
- Sprinkle a little UV powder on whatever you don’t want touched and then use a UV light to reveal who might have been messing with something they shouldn’t have.
In addition to the items that can be used for spying/safety, Walton said they also have counter-surveillance products as well. These would include items like those that detect if a space has a hidden camera or bug.
Being in the spy/surveillance technology field for several years now, Walton said recent advancements that have made gadgets smaller and cheaper, allowing more people to take on the role of a private detective, which can be expensive, themselves.
Everything sold on the site, Walton said, he has tested himself to make sure it works as it’s claimed.
“If it works, then our customer will be happy with it,” he said.
When it comes to the legal issues of some of the products — like planting a GPS tracker on someone’s car, which the U.S. Supreme Court ruled last year violated the Fourth Amendment — Walton first noted that all products on Cheaters Spy Shop have a legitimate purpose.
“If people choose to use a them in a different way, that’s their choice,” he said.
Now if the website’s customer service line is contacted and a person divulges how they plan to use the technology illegally, he said the operators are trained to let the customer know that their activity sounds like it could be against the law and that they should call a lawyer.
“We get so many calls from people who don’t realize what they want to do is completely illegal,” Walton said.
Any shop that carries tools that claim to help people spy — even if it’s in the name of safety — is sure to see some sort of criticism from privacy advocates. Walton’s response: go online.
“The sort of stuff we carry and that we use […is] nothing compared to the sort of information that is being collected about you online,” he said. “Anyone that criticizes us should check their Facebook account and make sure it’s hidden.”
He also pointed out data companies like cellphone providers and Internet service providers are continually giving up information about their users, obliging law enforcement requests. This is something the FBI has been trying to facilitate more of, while civil liberties and privacy advocates have been calling for a reform in outdated laws that allow such requests to be fulfilled.
Featured image via Shutterstock.com.