IS YOUR BOSS SPYING ON YOU? RIGHTS YOU NEED TO KNOW
It’s been known for years that hackers can break into your laptop webcam and spy on you. Camfecting can affect any camera with connection to the Internet. Hackers send seemingly safe malware to your device, and once you click their hidden acceptance, they enslave your computer for good. They can control the light that shows you whether the camera is in-use or not, concealing their own voyeurism. The first time this became a serious cultural realization was in 2013. A former Assistant Director in the FBI, Marcus Thomas, mentioned to the Washington Post that the government Bureau had been activating foreign computer cameras without triggering the notable light, for years. There was also Edward Snowden’s pivotal inter-continental whistleblowing and escape in 2013. His addition to the topic; government agencies had and continued to create software to bypass safety walls and spy on potentially millions of unknowing people. A Big Brother move to say the least.
Soon, stories about webcam hacking became commonplace. The former FBI Director, James Comey, encouraged others to safeguard their laptop cameras with a cover saying, “heck yeah... I use mine.” Then came stories about Cassidy Wolf, the Miss Teen USA, who was blackmailed by an acquaintance. She was one of hundreds of women Jared Abrahams was watching. There was also the infamous Mark Zuckerberg picture with his own webcam covered in 2016. Then came (creepy!) videography like “Short Film: Find My Phone" and a Black Mirror episode entitled "Shut Up and Dance."
The depths of this camfectation is growing easier and wider-spread as time evolves. Felix Krause, a past Google and Twitter employee who now builds his own companies, explains:
“Once you grant an app access to your camera, it can:
Access both the front and the back camera
Record you at any time the app is in the foreground
Take pictures and videos without telling you
Upload the pictures/videos it takes immediately
Run real-time face recognition to detect facial features or expressions”
So by now, you may be thinking twice about bringing your phone into the bathroom or bedroom.
Clearly hackers from both private and public sectors are spying on us through our webcams. And technology development is faster than lawmakers are able to act. However, besides covering our webcams with functional product, let’s review basic laws governing bodies are enforcing when it comes to camfecting. In addition to antiquated Acts prohibiting computer extortion or private data (See The Computer Fraud and Abuse Act of 1984 and National Information Infrastructure Protection Act of 1996), the 2000s brought-in laws that specifically protected citizens from webcam hacking. In 2004, the Video Voyeurism Prevention Act amended the Federal criminal code to prohibit knowingly videotaping, photographing, filming, recording by any means, or broadcasting an image of a private area of an individual, without that individual’s consent, under circumstances in which that individual has reasonable expectation of privacy. “Private area” is defined as the naked or undergarment-clad genitals, pubic area, buttocks, or female breast of an individual. To summarize the summarization, the federal courts now prohibit voyeurism without (the victim’s) consent. But that’s not all; if the case is filed as cyberstalking, hackers can be prosecuted for breaking the Federal Extortion Law.
This is all at the federal level. But each of the 50 states have passed laws preventing computer crime too. The subject spans from computer trespassing, unauthorized access, hacking, and disabling or modifying settings on our devices without the user’s knowledge. Most have up-to-date laws and protection against webcam hackers. It’s best to check your individual rights as per local laws here.
Unfortunately, these laws generally do not cover bosses witnessing you work. Employers can legally monitor almost anything an employee does at work as long as the reason for monitoring is related to the business. So your manager can spy on you whenever he or she would like, through your company’s property (i.e. your work laptop), as long as it’s business-related. Any alternative reasoning may be questionable, but extremely hard to prove and prosecute.
And so, as we come to the realization we might be working from home a lot longer than we hoped, and our bosses might have the urge to “pop in” without our knowledge, it’s important we know our rights. Finding, proving, and prosecuting sextortion camfectors is hard but the government at the Federal and States levels have placed policies to protect us. Still, our own managers are allowed to watch us whenever and however long they want through our webcams. Though this may be a rarity, preventing spying is easy with hardware. This stops camfecting before it can even happen.
Technology will continue to develop and hacking webcams will only become more mature and widespread. If you are the victim of camfecting, you are most likely protected at both the state and federal courts. Get familiar with your privacy rights, we might be closer to a Big Brother reality than you thought.