The House of Representatives has voted in support of a bill that would force manufacturers to tell consumers if Internet-connected devices have a built-in camera or microphone.
On February 27, House lawmakers overwhelmingly voted in favor of the measure.
The move hand enforcement of the rule over to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).
That requirement does not cover certain devices, such as “a telephone (including a mobile phone), a laptop, tablet, or any device that a consumer would reasonably expect to have a microphone or camera.”
A motion to suspend the rules and pass H.R. 538 flew through the chamber with 406 yeas and 12 nays.
201 Democrats and 205 Republicans voted for it.
12 Republicans voted against it and 15 representatives didn’t vote.
The motion’s opponents include a number of well-known conservative and libertarian lawmakers.
Rep. Thomas Massie (R-KY), Rep. Dan Bishop (R-NC), Rep. Andy Biggs (R-AZ), and Rep. Chip Roy (R-TX) all voted against it.
“This is a relatively straightforward bill,” said Rep. Gus Bilirakis (R-FL), a supporter of H.R. 538.
“Internet-connected devices are becoming increasingly present in our lives, and it’s important for people to understand what they’re buying.”
Rep. Frank Pallone (D-NJ), another supporter of the measure, told his colleagues about the rapid speed and massive scale of the Internet of Things (IoT) revolution in consumer products.
“Today, the average American home has 11 Internet of Things, or IoT, devices,” Pallone said.
Yet, Pallone’s numbers appear to be out of date.
A recent Deloitte survey suggests the number of Internet-connected items is even higher, at 22 smart devices per home as of 2022.
“We must ensure that the IoT revolution does not come at the expense of consumers’ privacy,” said Pallone.
He went on to describe reports that IoT-connected devices are recording users without them being aware.
The danger of smart devices extends beyond the threat from petty scammers and data-hungry corporations.
One 2022 report by Christopher Balding suggested that China could surreptitiously record Americans using coffee makers manufactured in the country.
“While we cannot say this company is collecting data on non-Chinese users, all evidence indicates their machines can and do collect data on users outside of mainland China and store the data in China,” the report states.
Meanwhile, IoT is currently helping Australia transform a coal port, Newcastle, into a “smart city.”
The European Union has also recognized growing security concerns over smart devices.
It unveiled new cybersecurity rules in September 2022.
A Senate version of the smart device disclosure bill has been sent to that body’s Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation for review.
How To Protect Your Yourself From Hidden Recording Devices
Because states across the U.S. enforce a variety of laws regarding hidden cameras, their usage can get a little legally murky. In general, home video and recording devices installed in property that you own – which may also be owned, for example, by your info-hungry spouse during a divorce – are legal, but may violate privacy rights if other occupants are unaware of them. Of course, before you consult your lawyer about the potential legality of recording devices in your home, you’ve got to find those bugs and hopefully block them – and that process is thankfully a little more straightforward than complex state laws.
Check Your Wi-Fi
Before you can block recording devices, you’ve got to find them. Just like everything from your Alexa to your Nintendo Switch, the majority of modern eavesdropping gadgets are connected to Wi-Fi, enabling them to remotely stream their recordings to an off-site computer. As such, the first step for finding hidden recording devices in your home is checking your Wi-Fi network for suspicious devices.
To do so, you’ll need to access your wireless router’s settings. Though the process may vary across routers, you can typically do this by logging into your account page at your service provider’s website (or the associated app), which enables you to manage the devices connected to your router or hotspot. If you see any devices that you don’t recognize connected to your Wi-Fi network, remove them from the list of registered devices to prevent them from streaming their recordings over the internet.
In some cases, more sophisticated devices rely on their own hotspots or SIM cards to access the internet without hopping onto your home Wi-Fi network. Use your computer or smartphone to check for new Wi-Fi networks that don’t belong to you or neighbors – you may have to take additional actions (such as Wi-Fi jammers) to block the bug’s own network.
Similarly, consumer-grade radio frequency detectors can scan for transmitters as you move the detector around your space, alerting you to radio frequencies with a beep or visual graph. In the latter case, be particularly wary of signals in the 10 Mhz to 8 Mhz range, a common frequency used by commercial bugs.
Make a Physical Sweep
It may be 2019, but finding a hidden microphone or camera still requires some old-fashioned snooping. Check your home for any new or out of place objects, even those that have been shifted just slightly – remember, modern eavesdropping devices are often micro-sized. While hidden recorders disguised as other (often functional) objects come in a huge range of shapes and styles, some common examples include pens, USB flash drives, USB charging cables and wall chargers, wrist bands and watches, Bluetooth-style speakers, alarm clocks, glasses, light bulbs, books, smoke detectors, phone-charging docks and even picture frames.
As you sweep for these suspicious objects, scan the walls of your house for small drill holes, a common hiding spot for bugs. While checking for these small details, keep an eye out for any wires that you don’t recognize. While many small listening devices run on battery power, others still rely on AC power. In particular, look for USB, micro-USB or USB-C power cords, similar to the charging cables you use to juice up your phone. Turning off the lights and making a visual scan also helps identify any blinking power lights on cameras, while sweeping nooks and crannies with a flashlight may reveal the glint of a hidden lens.
Hidden Camera Blocking
In the case of nanny cam-like objects that disguise cameras or microphones, simply remove them from your home, keeping them intact somewhere secure (should they be required as evidence). Tape, spackle or caulk over any drill holes containing hidden listening devices. If you get lucky and find a wired power source for a hidden recording gadget, simply unplugging it may be enough to stop it from recording.
On the more technological side, a white noise machine or just a white noise app can help conceal sensitive audio in your home, preventing even active mics from picking up usable recordings. Likewise, Wi-Fi signal jammers – typically effective in a range of up to about 130 feet – can render surrounding Wi-Fi connections useless. That means you might have to work out of a coffee shop for a while, but it’s a better alternative than being bugged.
If you’re still not 100 percent certain that you’ve located and blocked any potential surveillance devices in your home, turning to the pros is also an option. Professional counter-surveillance services pack detection equipment that goes far beyond the capabilities of consumer-grade gadgets and can advise you on the disposal or disabling of anything they detect.