Household snoops investing in tools of spy trade

July 31, 1995|By New York Times News Service

Perhaps you thought you could pin that pint of Haagen-Dazs you polished off while watching your sister's child on someone else. But it just may be that your every move was monitored by a video camera.

Thousands of people across the country are using hidden cameras and other tools of the spy trade to snoop on family members and baby sitters.

The equipment for home spying ranges from miniature video cameras hidden in stuffed animals and smoke detectors to kits that test snippets of children's hair for traces of drugs.

The subject of scrutiny is often a nanny, a teen-ager or a spouse. And the motivation may be fear, jealousy or a desire for safety. Though surreptitiously tracking other people's behavior raises questions about privacy, in most cases it is perfectly legal to do so in the family home without consent.

"We're living in a crazy world," said Greg Graison, the vice president of Quark Spy Centre, a shop in New York City. "And I hate to say this, but it's good for business."

No one seems to know exactly how large the home-snooping universe is, because items sold for the purpose tend to be fringe components of larger industries, like video equipment that has been modified for sale to law enforcement officials. Analysts don't track equipment designed purely for surveillance, viewing it as a maverick fragment of the industry.

But one thing is clear about household spies: they would rather not discuss it.

"We give peace of mind," said Stephen Percoco, president of In-Home Nanny Surveillance Inc., a New York City company that rents out video equipment to people who want to observe baby sitters. "I would not even ask my clients to speak to you."

Among the snoopy and the paranoid, parents concerned about a child's well-being seem to lead the pack. "Nervous parents are our most common customer," said Tom Felice, retail manager of the Counter Spy Shop, a New York-based concern which has seven stores across the country.

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