an Ad a Day

A look at the marketing that surrounds us.

Spy Watch: Secretly Gather Evidence

Posted by Rosepixie on April 20, 2010

I recently went on an airplane trip, which gave me the opportunity to check out a SkyMall catalog.  It was full of fascinating advertisements for strange products.  Apparently spies regularly shop SkyMall, since they had many “spy gadgets”, but one of the most interesting such ads was for this spy watch.

The text reads:

The ultimate spy gadget: the new digital video spy camera watch!

This stylish watch has a secret… it contains a hidden color camcorder – ideal as both a spy camera and a hidden camera.  It is small enough to wear anywhere!  Wherever you go with your mini camcorder on your wrist you’ll know for sure that you won’t miss anything!  Use it unnoticed for personal security or evidence gathering.  No one will know.  With built-in 2GB flash memory and rechargeable lithium battery, it lets you record both video and voice.  This is one of the most useful spy gadgets we have ever tried.  The built-in DVR makes this truly portable and spy worthy.

So why did this ad particularly catch my attention?  The part about gathering evidence.  See, nothing you record on a secret camera in a watch is going to be admissible evidence in a court for anything.  There are very strict rules about how evidence can be obtained and “I recorded it secretly on my spy watch” isn’t going to cut it for the same reasons taped phone conversations don’t.  So how can they be claiming that their watch will help you gather evidence?

They can claim it because you don’t need to have gathered evidence in any legitimate way as long as they aren’t required for a court case.  So if you just want to know if the babysitter is drinking beer after the kids go to bed or if your wife is lying about meeting her old high school boyfriend for lunch but don’t need to press charges if they are doing those things, you can “spy” on them using questionable methods all you want.  They can complain that you violated their privacy, but that’s a separate issue.

So this is a watch explicitly advertising itself as a tool for making unauthorized recordings (there are laws about recording or videotaping people without their knowledge – it’s a tort or civil wrong and pretty heavily frowned upon and can get you sued for invasion of privacy).  It’s one thing to say you’re selling a “spy” device, but I find it somewhat more problematic when the advertisements actually encourage potentially illegal activities.  I don’t have a big problem with small cameras existing, since they have some real uses.  But I do have a problem with advertisements encouraging illegal activities, even if the companies selling the products know that is a likely use of what they sell.  It’s reprehensible and irresponsible (and I would even argue that it could get the company sued as well, since their misrepresentation of the activity could lead to it happening when it otherwise might not, depending on how the judge felt like seeing it).


3 Responses to “Spy Watch: Secretly Gather Evidence”

  1. Eva said

    I agree with you that the people selling this camera are being somewhat irresponsible in how they’re pushing it, but I also think there are probably legal, “evidence” gathering uses for it in public. It’s one thing to record someone in a private home without their consent, but if you are on a crowded street, I’m pretty sure recordings and pictures are fair game.

    I’m sure it’s possible to invade someone’s privacy in a public place, but I’m under the impression that the bar is a lot higher for you to prove that you had that “reasonable expectation.” I don’t think the recorders/photographers have an obligation to make it obvious to all their subjects that they’re doing so (at least not legally). If they did, normal things like people taking newspaper photos at football games would be legal disasters.

    • Rosepixie said

      It’s very complicated in public places. Things like taking newspaper photos are ok because it’s very obvious they’re doing it. Things like taking cell phone pictures aren’t always ok. It has to do with “expectation of privacy”, which is dicier in public, obviously. Regardless, “gathering evidence” is generally understood to involve gathering things that people want to keep private – personal conversations, things kept in a purse, etc.

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