South Korean authorities say as many as 1,600 motel guests in the country were secretly recorded last year as part of an illegal spy-cam ring that included thousands of patrons. Tiny cameras were concealed inside of TVs and power sockets, among other locations, in 42 motel rooms in 10 cities.
The footage was livestreamed, police say, across a website of more than 4,000 registered members. Citing Seoul investigators, CNN reported Wednesday that members of the site paid roughly $50 a month to access the feeds, which were also recorded and could be played back at any time.
Sales of spycam detectors are soaring, the Korea Times reports, in response to the latest of the innumerable crimes involving sexual predators surreptitiously filming women.
In Seoul, the use of hidden cameras—many which have lenses no larger than a bread crumb—has reached epidemic levels and has fueled protests of tens of thousands of women; such as the more than 20,000 women who wore masks last year and held signs reading, “My life is not your porn.”
The punishment for secretly recording sexual acts is a fine less than $10,000 (U.S.) and may include up to a seven-year prison sentence. Protesters have complained that lighter sentences are far more common, however, according to a BBC report.
Hidden-camera crime in South Korean reportedly rose from around 1,100 incidents in 2010 to more than 6,500 in 2017.
Public outcry led officials to form an investigative unit comprised solely of women to inspect some 20,000 public restrooms across the city where the cameras are commonly found. Plans have also been discussed to expand the searches to include high-schools, middle schools, and elementary schools, according to reports.
The search effort has been criticized locally by some as a feeble response and one unlikely to deter predators.
South Korean authorities have also attempted to block websites offering access to hidden-cam feeds, adding them to its “draconian” censorship apparatus, which has otherwise been heavily criticized by groups such as Reporters With Borders. (Online censorship and de-anonymization are exceedingly common in the country, with the government motivated in part by a desire to quash the spread of North Korean propaganda.)
In January, a Seoul court sentenced the owner of one of the country’s largest porn websites to four years in prison for distributing “obscene” material, which including hidden-cam footage. The site, Soranet, was founded in 1999, and before closing hosted tens of thousands of videos deemed illegal under the country’s laws.
The Korean Times reports that sales of hidden-cam detectors soared 333 percent earlier this month, as compared to the year before. The increased sales have been attributed in large part to charges against K-pop star Jung Joon-young, who has been accused of spreading covertly recorded videos of sex partners without their consent.
Out of 140,880 sexual crimes reported in the last five years, 26,654 involved some form of covert recording, the paper said, citing police data.