South Korea cracks down on spy cams in public toilets

A spy-camera search squad inspecting a public toilet near a swimming pool in Changwon, South Korea.
A spy-camera search squad inspecting a public toilet near a swimming pool in Changwon, South Korea.PHOTO: MIN JOO KIM/WASHINGTON POST

SEOUL • In hidden corners across South Korea, tiny cameras are surreptitiously recording women when they are at their most vulnerable.

They have come to fear that "spy cams" could be anywhere: perched inside the toilet bowl of a public restroom or disguised as a smoke detector in a shop's fitting room.

In Seoul, the proliferation of such hidden cameras - and the images they record, which often end up on pornographic websites - has often been described as an epidemic.

The city announced a crackdown on Sunday, increasing the number of municipal employees assigned to search public toilets for hidden cameras to 8,000 next month, from the 50 currently at work.

"It is to help citizens feel safe when they use public restrooms, free from concerns about spy cams," the Seoul Metropolitan Government said in a statement.

The city has promised to inspect every one of its 20,554 public restrooms daily, an enormous undertaking that underscores the scope of the problem. More than 30,000 cases of surreptitious filming have been reported nationally since 2013, according to police statistics.

Beginning next month, workers will check over 20,000 public toilets in subways, parks, community centres, public gyms and underground commercial arcades.


cMany women avoid going to public toilets alone, especially at night. "I have never felt safe about going to public bathrooms ever since I was a college student," Ms Choi Yoon-jeong, 34, said. "I don't think the new measures will be effective because finding and getting rid of the hidden cameras in public restrooms will not solve the problem."

Most toilets are now inspected only once a month, and inspectors have not discovered a single recording device in the past two years. Perpetrators, police said, often leave devices in place very briefly, perhaps for only 15 minutes each time.

Women's rights rallies in Seoul in May and June drew thousands. Women said spy cameras are but one 21st-century form of harassment. They are also the subjects of upskirting, in which perpetrators use smartphones to photograph women's crotches in public places.

There are calls for harsher punishments for perpetrators, in addition to the removal of hidden cameras. Some said a boys' club culture permeated the way police handled these crimes, often letting men go without being charged in cases where there was no physical violence.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 05, 2018, with the headline 'S. Korea cracks down on spy cams in public toilets'. Print Edition | Subscribe