Spycam victims hit back over violations

An Australian landlord has been jailed and a New Zealand family compensated following accom’s latest hidden camera revelations.

The Barker family from Auckland were holidaying in Ireland when they discovered a hidden camera live streaming their movements in accommodation booked through the platform.

Andrew Barker, his wife Nealie and their family discovered the camera when the IT consultant connected a mobile phone to the Cork property’s wifi last month and found ‘IP Camera’ on the networks list.

To the family’s horror, a hidden camera recording inside a smoke alarm was providing live video feed of the living room.

“We felt a sense of shock and potential danger in the moment we discovered the camera. It felt like a huge invasion of our privacy,” Nealie Barker said.

“The kids felt worried that the host might be a scary stalker type and we knew he had remote access to the front door, so could in theory enter the property.

“We really had no clue whether our safety was at risk or not or whether there were other cameras in the house.”

While the Barker’s landlord claimed the camera was placed in the Irish rental to “protect his investment”, Sydney unit manager James Maxwell employed hidden cameras for a more sinister purpose.

Maxwell, 49, pleaded guilty in Sydney’s Downing Centre Local Court to hiding secret spy cameras in the bathrooms and a bedroom of two units in a Pyrmont apartment block last year.

In a case reminiscent of that involving Tony Greathead, who was jailed for more than four years for secretly recording guests showering at his home stay on New Zealand’s North Island, Maxwell placed cameras inside clocks and a wrist watch in units being leased by university students.

He was sentenced to 28 months’ jail after the devices filming tenants having sex, going to the toilet, masturbating and showering.

The devices were discovered when a tenant became suspicious of one of the clocks in their apartment. Police found 90 videos of multiple men and women, including footage showing Maxwell syncing one of the cameras with his phone.

The former air steward pleaded guilty to several charges including intentionally recording intimate images without consent, filming a person in a private act without consent and filming a person’s private parts without consent.

Maxwell’s defence team claimed he felt “extreme levels of remorse” over what he had done.

In sentencing, Magistrate Kate Thompson said his crimes struck at the “heart of personal integrity and dignity”.

“The victims were oblivious that their most intimate moments were being monitored and recorded for sexual arousal,” she said. “The victims all believed when they closed their door that the only people present were those physically in the room – that sanctity was violated.”

While residential tenancy regulations provide longer-term tenants like Maxwell’s with privacy protections, short-term letting is less well policed.

After confronting the owner of their Cork accommodation, Nealie Barkers said he “denied the existence of the camera a couple of times until Andrew asked him, ‘Why am I looking at myself on a live feed right now then?’”.

She said: “He called back a bit later to confess he only had one hidden camera at the property … He refused to tell us whether it was recording and whether he could also hear us.”

Airbnb confirmed the Barkers would receive a full refund and an apology after acknowledging its representatives were initially dismissive of the complaint.

While the home-share giant has a ‘zero-tolerance’ policy for filming which is considered to violate the privacy of its guests, it stops short of stipulating no cameras within its properties.

“Airbnb hosts must fully disclose whether there are security cameras or other surveillance equipment at or around the listing and get consent where required. Cameras are never allowed in bathrooms or bedrooms,” said a spokesperson following a secret filming incident in Canada recently.

The Barkers, who decamped to a local hotel on discovering the camera, have urged Airbnb to review its privacy policies.

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