The woman didn’t put everything together last summer until she used her friend’s laptop.
She had already spotted an unusual clock in her friend’s Schenectady bathroom, one with a red light and a USB port to connect it to a computer.
On that laptop, though, she found an email from an online pornography site specializing in a particular kind of illicitly produced smut, an invasive kind depicting secretly taped women using the bathroom.
Soon, that friend, Keifer Wray, was arrested, accused of secretly recording three women in his residence. He has since pleaded guilty to second-degree unlawful surveillance, accepting a sentence of one to three years in prison.
Wray’s case isn’t unique. There have been two other cases of hidden bathroom cameras in Schenectady in just the past five months. And experts say this kind of unlawful surveillance is on the rise nationally.
While statistics are not available, experts say the increase is due in large part to advances in technology that make it possible, for example, to use a camera hidden in a clock, all at relatively little cost.
“We have seen the growth of this kind of act,” said Ilse Knecht, deputy director of public policy at the National Center for Victims of Crime. “Now you can buy one of these little cameras very easily, and they’re easy to install.
“It’s a challenge, to say the least. People have to be aware.”
In all three Schenectady cases, each person was charged with felony counts of unlawful surveillance. Two of the cases have resulted in guilty pleas, while the third case is pending.
In each case, victims were aware enough to realize something wasn’t right and reported it, prosecutors said. Once the recording was reported, investigators quickly zeroed in on suspects.
In New York state, unlawful surveillance includes secretly recording under someone’s clothing; in an area where people are undressing, like changing or locker rooms; or in areas where there is a reasonable expectation of privacy, like bathrooms.
There is also a separate statute for felony dissemination of an unlawful surveillance image, which covers publishing an unlawful surveillance image.
The unlawful surveillance statute also allows for those convicted of the crime to be required to register as a sex offender, if it is found they created the secret recording for their own sexual gratification.
Jessica Lorusso, of the Schenectady County District Attorney’s Office, who prosecuted two of the three cases, said Wray’s case was especially egregious because the images were posted online for the world to see. Once uploaded, the recordings can be difficult or impossible to have removed. In Wray’s case, the website is based outside the United States.
Lorusso pressed for the prison sentence for Wray because of his posting the photos on the Internet. Wray has no criminal history.
Lorusso said Wray’s three victims are satisfied with the resolution of the case but still must deal with having intimate parts of their bodies displayed on the Internet.
“Basically their privacy and trust has been destroyed,” Lorusso said after Wray pleaded guilty earlier this month. “They have to basically deal with the fact that their intimate areas are now placed on the Internet, not just for this individual, but also for however many people might see it on the Internet.”
It’s been enough to make Lorusso wary to the point where she scans for hidden devices wherever she goes. Even that isn’t a guarantee of privacy, though, she said.
“These things are oftentimes camouflaged as something else,” she said.
Wray used a camera hidden in a clock, sometimes referred to as a nanny cam. A search of his residence also uncovered a camera hidden in a pen, Lorusso said,
Nanny cams themselves are intended to be used for lawful purposes, ensuring children are properly taken care of while parents are away. Wray’s purposes were far from lawful.
“It’s people using devices that are completely legal in an illegal way,” Lorusso said. “My advice is just to be aware of your circumstances, aware of your surroundings.”
Jack Rivituso, an adjunct instructor in the computer science department at Siena College, said the pens, clocks and other small devices make the crime hard to stop or even uncover.
“Is there a concern? Yes,” said Rivituso, who also works in law enforcement. “There’s a real concern.”
Rivituso said people should always keep in mind the possibility a secret recording device is there. Some devices, he said, can work remotely, sending images wirelessly so the perpetrator doesn’t have to return to pick up the camera. Those devices, though, often require proximity to the restroom to get the signal.
Inside restrooms, people should keep an eye out for things that don’t belong, he said.
“It’s the kind of thing where you have to be vigilant across the board, even in your own home,” he said.
In the other two Schenectady surveillance cases, the cameras were spotted because they stood out as unusual.
Clarence L. Sutton’s method, a propped-up cellphone, was easily uncovered. Sutton, 29, admitted in November to trying to record a child getting ready for a shower in a Schenectady home two months earlier. The girl spotted it and told her father, which led to Sutton’s arrest.
He pleaded guilty to felony second-degree unlawful surveillance and is to be sentenced in January to six months in jail.
The third case involves a registered nurse at Ellis Hospital accused of placing a tiny camera in an employee bathroom in October and November. The camera has been described by authorities as looking like a USB drive. How it was allegedly placed hasn’t been detailed publicly, but authorities said such a device would be out of place in an employee bathroom.
The accused nurse, Paul J. Bourdeau, 45, of Schenectady, is free pending trial.
When cases do arise, like the three in Schenectady, jail time and sex offender registration is an appropriate response, Knecht said. The crimes, she said, can have a profound impact on victims.
In one case she knows of, the victim was secretly taped in a shower, then felt compelled to only shower with her clothes on.
“It’s not a crime that has no impact on a victim,” Knecht said. “People we talk to say this is very intrusive. Victims can have the feeling like they’re being watched all of the time. They never feel comfortable again.”