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The Hidden Camera CrimeIt Is Beside You

Last summer, the “waterpark hidden camera” incident took all of Korea by surprise, while more recently, a member of the national swimming team was found to have installed a hidden camera in the female dressing room in the Jincheon Korean National Training Center. It is obvious that secretly filming other people is a serious crime, but it still occurs continuously in Korea. The Sungkyun Times (SKT) explores how the hidden camera crime occurs, why it is a serious problem, and how to solve it.

The Hidden Camera Crime

What Is the Hidden Camera Crime?

The hidden camera crime is the act of taking and circulating pictures or visual recordings of another person without consent. In Korea, most of hidden camera crimes take place in subways (47%), streets (10%), and work places (4%) according to Yonhap News. Rented rooms and lodgings such as motels, however, can also become crime scenes if someone plants hidden cameras to film others.

There has been a case of a couple who became worst enemies due to the hidden camera crime. An average office worker and a woman met through a social networking service (SNS) had been a couple for about half a year. He secretly filmed their sexual relations. One day, he discovered his girlfriend exchanging messages with another man and became angry. As revenge, he intentionally spread the video file via the Internet.

How Has the Crime Developed?

In Korea, the occurrence of hidden camera crimes is increasing constantly; according to the National Police Agency, the number rose from 2,400 in 2012 to 7,623 in 2015, meaning that last year, an average of 21 cases occurred daily.

Sex Culture of Korea

Many experts claim that the Confucian culture pervading Korea might be causing people to be conservative on sexual issues and to not expose their thoughts or views about sex. In such a closed culture, there is a tendency to satisfy one’s sexual desires in such unhealthy and harmful ways rather than sound and open ways.

Spread of Smartphones and Subminiature Cameras

People use a variety of devices for such crimes. Most criminals usually use smartphones and try to take pictures or record videos on subway stairs or beaches. Alternatively, they also use subminiature cameras. With technology enabling smaller and smaller devices, the demand for subminiature cameras is noticeably increasing: subminiature camera sales volume has increased by about 30% this year, with over 600 released products. In addition, the camera lenses produce such high quality pictures and videos that they could be broadcast straight away without touch ups. When a subminiature camera is inserted into any item such as pens, cigarette lighters, glasses, and pinholes pierced in ties, it is difficult to distinguish with the naked eye. Therefore, a person can be filmed without knowing, which means there is no way to escape the hidden camera crime. Nevertheless, many sellers advertise these cameras as daily necessities, so people can order and receive them without strict regulation.

Camouflaged Subminiature Cameras / camstory.tistory.com

The Victim and the Assailant, and the Punishment in Korea


Assailants’ Lack of Awareness

Even though the hidden camera crime is an invasion of privacy and an act of sexual harassment, most assailants lack awareness of the crime. Assailants not only include the original assailant who films, but also a secondary assailant who circulates the video as well. They usually do not recognize that their actions are a serious crime, since they do not harm victims physically and simply take pictures or videos of what they see. In addition, criminals stress the contingency of the crime and simply regard it as a misdemeanor. They also rationalize their actions as something they are not openly proud of, but still not a crime deserving of a punishment. Moreover, they lack a sense of guilt, believing that most people, especially men, are just curious.

Victims’ Suffering

According to Yonhap News, victims are mainly women across all age groups. 60% of victims were in their twenties, 14% in their thirties, and 12% were under 19. The harm caused from the pictures and the videos, however, is not limited to just the moment of the crime. Not only is the crime itself serious, but the fact that the films could be spread is devastating for victims because they are victimized over and over again. Although they are not physically harassed, they receive emotional and psychological harm which will affect them for years. Women feel anxious that their bodies could be filmed and shared online without their knowledge, meaning women could all be potential victims of the hidden camera crime.

Strict Laws in Korea, How About the Actual Punishment?

The laws in Korea on filming secretly using a camera are stricter than those of most other countries. Any person who commits such crime can be sentenced to five years at most or be fined up to one million won. Those who spread the pictures or videos for profit may face up to seven years in prison. Nevertheless, the laws have been ineffective since light penalties are being imposed in practice. A considerable number of hidden camera assailants are fined in the first trial. During the last five years, courts in Seoul sentenced a monetary penalty for 68% of hidden camera crime trials, probation for 17%, and an actual prison sentence for only 9%. In addition, the rate of prosecution is only one third of the rate of arrest. The reason the first court ruling is weak despite the strict laws is mostly due to the fact that most assailants are first-time offenders who are usually punished lightly and therefore do not regret their wrongdoings. Due to these light punishments, assailants are more likely to repeatedly commit the same offence.

Government’s Counterplan

In 2012, the Korea Communications Commission decided to ban applications that allow people to take pictures or film videos silently. Many people criticized the decision of compelling manufacturers to include sound in smartphone cameras when filming as excessive regulation, but the ban is not well-enforced as people can still use the applications easily.

In 2013, the Act on the Protection of Children and Juveniles from Sexual Abuse was revised so that hidden camera assailants would become subjects to information disclosure, such as their names, photos, and residence. Moreover, this information is managed by the Ministry of Justice and the Police Agency for 20 years. This August, however, an exemption law on the penalties for sexual abuse went through, including legislations stating that minor offenders’ identities do not have to be released, rendering the prior law useless.

Even though the government came up with some other solutions, such as assigning the Office of Special Investigation to hidden camera crimes, the crime rate is still on the rise.

Possible Solutions to the Hidden Camera Crime

How Do Foreign Countries Punish the Crimes?

Countries such as Russia and Canada have appropriate penalties for hidden camera crimes. First, even though Russia does not impose a hefty fine to assailants, assailants are tried for the crime of slander, which is included in criminal law. Furthermore, Russia releases the identities of assailants and limits their professions to not hold particular positions, such as public officers or professors. On the other hand, Canada has strong laws against invasion of privacy to deal with hidden camera crimes: the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (PIPEDA), and a video voyeurism law concerning video surveillances. According to these laws, a person who surreptitiously observes or records others must have his or her face open to the public through flyers, TV, and news. Moreover, when assailants leave the country and come back, flyers are to be updated and delivered again.

Possible Ways to Improve


If the government or the police pay compensation fees to an accuser, more people would report assailants. For example, reporting a criminal targeting children and the disabled could have a reward of five million won, reporting a criminal targeting juveniles two million won, and reporting a criminal who filmed an ordinary person one million won.

Regulations for Smartphone Cameras

As mentioned above, there is a regulation in Korea that bans silent smartphone cameras. Since there are many opponents to this regulation, the government should consider making another regulation on smartphone cameras. One of the research workers in the Electronics and Telecommunications Research Institute (ETRI) said that it is possible to make a smartphone camera activate the flash when it starts filming or to make sound only when photos or videos are saved after filming, instead of making a sound every time a picture is taken.

Restriction on Subminiature Cameras

Most laws concern punishments rather than prevention of the crime. Since prevention is an important aspect to minimizing crimes, the government needs to enact laws to catch up to the current technology and make detailed regulations for devices that can be used in the crime. A system that closely monitors the processes of production, distribution, sale, and possession of subminiature cameras is necessary. With this system, people who need to use subminiature cameras must receive permission from commissioners of a district police agency.

Alternative to Criminals

Everyone, especially hidden camera criminals, have to realize that the hidden camera crime is not just a misdemeanor, but a felony. For criminals, there should be a system to reform their skewed sexual knowledge so that they feel guilty about their crime, followed by appropriate psychological treatments

The hidden camera crime is not a tall-tale or a faraway story. Somebody might sneakily record our families to share with people all over the world, and we could also become victims of this crime. While most people know and acknowledge that the hidden camera crime must be eradicated, the crime rate is still rising. Now, it is necessary to take action in order to change this negative culture through adequate punishments and regulations

김수진  sujintwelve@naver.com

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