In the dystopian world also known as "2017," there are a lot of things to be afraid of. Election meddling. Peter Thiel. Toilet iguanas.
But among the scariest developments is the steady technological improvement of spy cameras. Smaller than ever, camera lenses can now be hidden in everything from tissue boxes to electrical outlets to shampoo bottles. Product developers have gotten so good at hiding spy cams that one manufacturer recently told a Houston TV station that everyone should "always assume you’re being watched, no matter where you are."
The scenario is especially problematic in hotel rooms, Airbnb rentals, and other vacation properties, where most people assume a certain level of privacy. On a recent Carnival cruise to Cozumel, one Florida family says they found a small camera connected to a transmitting device that had been hidden behind the wall-mounted TV set in their cabin.
The family, a married couple from the Panhandle traveling with their 10-year-old son, says they found the camera while inspecting their room the second day of an October cruise from Mobile, Alabama, to Mexico. The father, whom New Times is not naming to protect his family's privacy, says he was taking photos of dust around the cabin after having an allergy attack. When he moved the TV, he says, he found a wired-up camera with its lens pointed toward the bed.
"It was a WTF moment, you know?" he says. "I asked my wife, 'What is this? Is that what I think it is?' We both just went white as ghosts."
The couple called Carnival's security team, which sent an officer to their cabin to inspect the device. But much to the family's disappointment, they say, the officer contaminated the evidence by handling the camera without gloves. Despite the device being warm to the touch, the family says Carnival insisted the camera was nonfunctioning and seemed to downplay the discovery.
"They said that it had probably been left there by a previous guest, but there was a layer of dust on top that had been there longer than just the previous guest," the father says.
In a statement to New Times, Carnival says its security team handled the incident appropriately and thoroughly.
"After review by the ship’s technicians, it was determined that device was not operational," spokesman Vance Gulliksen says. "A full investigation was conducted by the shipboard team in tandem with Carnival’s shoreside security personnel, who also notified U.S. law enforcement."
But the family says it has not been assuaged by Carnival's response. The father says the cruise line neglected to follow up with him or his wife and adds that he has yet to hear from any law enforcement agency in reference to an investigation. Most troubling to him is the idea that someone could exploit images of his young son, a fear he doesn't feel the cruise line took seriously.
"What I'm worried about is the fact that that camera captured my minor child in various states of undress," he says.
Miami attorney Jim Walker, who has been helping the family communicate with Carnival, takes on hundreds of cases against the cruise lines each year but says this is the first time he's heard of a passenger locating a hidden camera onboard.
"The more I was thinking about it, it got me thinking: How often does this happen?" he says. "How many other passengers are being secretly recorded?" (Carnival did not respond to a question from New Times about how it safeguards passengers from such situations.)
Despite previously being loyal Carnival customers, the family says they doubt they'll be back on a cruise ship anytime soon.
"Their goal was to quiet everything down and not make a big deal of it, to not alert other guests," the father says. "I'm learning that when you're a victim of a crime onboard a ship, the individuals that are there to help you and investigate work for the cruise line, so they're not necessarily going to have your best interests at heart."