Hidden hotel cameras lead to arrests in China

Police in central China have detained a man who installed hidden cameras in several hotel rooms and another who claimed the devices were common in mainland hotels, amid growing public concerns over privacy outside the home.

A 42-year-old insurance company employee, surnamed Xie, was detained on Saturday night after at least five guest rooms at a low-budget hotel in Zhengzhou, Henan province, were revealed late last week to have been equipped with pinhole cameras, according to a statement from the city's police bureau on Sunday.

Xie, who works in the neighbouring city of Shangqiu, bought the devices online and installed them in various rooms during his stays, but kept the filmed content to himself, the statement said.

Police also detained a senior manager of the Yutai Hotel, a 35-year-old man surnamed Song, for his sensational remark in a television interview that 80 per cent of hotel rooms in Zhengzhou have pinhole cameras.

Henan Television had previously reported that a young couple found one of the tiny devices in a socket below the TV in their room during their stay in the hotel on June 15.

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"It must have been installed by someone who wanted to film guests to make profits. I would say that 80 per cent of hotel rooms in Zhengzhou have this," Song said in the TV interview.

Song received a 10-day detention for spreading rumours and disturbing social order, while Xie was under criminal detention and awaiting further action from authorities, the police statement said.

The two cases have generated a large online buzz and reignited public discussion in China about privacy in hotels and shops.

In response, several police bureaus have shared tips on Weibo, China's version of Twitter, on how to find hidden cameras in hotel rooms.

Professor Wang Wanfei, who specialises in tourism and hotel management at Zhejiang University, said privacy for hotel guests was a sensitive issue and deserved more respect on the mainland.

"There have been media reports about secret cameras in hotel rooms and, over the years, people have been feeling more insecure and becoming more concerned," Wang said.

"It should be a citizen's common sense and a hotel worker's basic competency to respect guests' privacy, but many of our industry workers still lack such awareness."

Similar cases have frequently made newspaper headlines in the past couple of years, involving cheap hotels in second-tier or smaller cities, as well as five-star establishments in major cities like Shenzhen.

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A guest at Shenzhen's five-star Sunshine Hotel found a camera hidden in his room's smoke detector in September last year, the Southern Metropolis News reported. The hotel claimed it was unaware of the device and called police to investigate.

Han Jun, a Shanghai-based import and export trader, said he frequently travelled around the world but had never bothered to check if there was a hidden camera in his hotel room.

He said he thought it was something that usually happened in low-budget hotels, which he avoided if possible.

"If I found one I would be rich by now because most high level hotels would hush up the guest by paying a big sum in compensation. Besides, it's very hard for a guest to prove the camera was there before his entry into the room, as the content it films is often stored in a remote server," he said.

This article was first published in South China Morning Post.