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Was that Your Butt I Saw on YouTube?

April 1st, 2010 · 4 Comments

This isn’t the kind of thing I usually write about, but since so many of you travel I thought you should know about this problem.

FORT WORTH, Texas (AP) – The discovery of special “toilet cams” in multiple U.S. airports has left airport security experts scratching their heads and travelers wondering whether their private moments have been recorded and posted on YouTube.

The cameras were first discovered by John Velasqualia, a plumber at Dallas/Ft. Worth International Airport.

“A large number of our automatic flush toilets kept flushing as users entered and left the stalls,” Mr. Velasqualia states. “Normally they only flush when you leave. At an airport with over 4000 public toilets, that’s a lot of wasted water. So I took apart the flush activation sensor to see what the problem was. That’s when I discovered the camera.”

Automatic flush toilets rely on motion sensors to determine when to flush the toilet, using simple circuitry that is stored in the toilet ‘head unit’.

“The motion sensors had been replaced by cheap wireless cameras,” Mr. Velasqualia told us. “These cameras were connected to the head unit so that they turned on when they detect motion. Unfortunately for whoever did this, it goofed up the sensor logic, causing the toilets to flush as a person enters the stall.”

Since the discovery of the first camera, over one hundred other toilet cams have been found at DFW, and the effort to locate them all isn’t finished. “We’ve got a lot of toilets to check,” DFW said through a spokesperson on Friday. “It could take up to a week to search them all for cameras.”

Further investigation of these devices revealed something even more troubling: the cameras were using the airport’s public wireless network to upload videos of travelers dropping their shorts directly to the internet.

“I’m not sure where the videos were going,” Mike Frackensense, IT Security Manager at DFW told us. “Maybe YouTube, maybe some fetish-oriented porn site, who knows. All I know is I’m not using a toilet that flushes when I enter the cubicle.”

At least twelve other airports have reported finding similar toilet cams in their stalls. Lincoln International Airport in Nebraska discovered that every one of their 14 public toilets had the cameras installed.

“This type of voyeurism is appalling. I’m deeply disturbed and hope that none of our employees were involved in placing these cameras,” said one airport employee anonymously. “We can remove the cameras now, but what if the perpetrators just keep coming back?”

“The cameras are not sophisticated,” says security expert Maude Palienski. “You can get all the parts at Radio Shack for $20 and build the device in an hour. The installation is the trickiest part because you have to disassemble the toilet head without alerting others.”

“The location of the toilet head unit is perfect for this kind of privacy invasion. It captures the images just as you are pulling down your pants and sitting down, giving whoever did this a perfect view of your backside.”

“Cleaning this problem up is going to be a giant mess. I hope they catch the people who did this.”

Police say the perpetrator doesn’t appear to be targeting a specific gender. Cameras have been found in all types of restrooms, including the popular family restrooms.

There are two bright spots in this new kind of cyber crime:

“Detecting the presence of these cameras as a traveler is pretty easy,” says Ms. Palienski. “If the toilet flushes as you approach it, odds are there is a camera in it. Move on to the next stall.”

The other bright spot?

“The cameras don’t have audio capabilities. I’m personally feeling pretty grateful about that.”

More information: Fort Worth Star Telegram

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