What is Covert Surveillance?

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  • Written By: Jessica Hobby
  • Edited By: Heather Bailey
  • Last Modified Date: 28 September 2019
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Covert surveillance occurs when someone or something is being observed without knowledge. People who are under surveillance are most often under suspicion. Locations and buildings are primarily observed because of suspicious activity or to obtain information about a suspect.

Covert surveillance is generally performed by government agencies, private investigators or business owners. Intelligence organizations such as the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) of the United States and the United Kingdom’s Secret Intelligence Service, also called MI6, participate in surveillance to obtain information for national security interests such as counter terrorism. Law enforcement agencies such as the United States’ Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) or the International Criminal Police Organization (INTERPOL) also perform surveillance. They concentrate on observing suspected criminals.

Private investigators perform covert surveillance for a variety of reasons. Husbands and wives hire private investigators to prove or disprove suspected infidelity. Businesses hire private investigators to observe employees who are suspected of fraudulent activities or former employees that may be breaking confidentiality agreements. Insurance companies are notorious for using private investigators to put claimants under surveillance to ensure they are not submitting a fraudulent claim.


Many business owners participate in covert surveillance of their employees and customers. Observing employees while they are working gives business owners valuable information, such as employee production and employee theft. Covertly observing customers can aid in marketing and research efforts and most importantly account for loss due to theft in retail businesses. Retail businesses can also use information obtained through covert surveillance to prosecute shoplifters.

A surveillance operation may be carried out in a number of ways. Agency employees and private investigators may choose to observe a subject without the aid of sophisticated technology, using things such as binoculars and cameras. However, in an age of modern technological conveniences, it is safer, cheaper and more convenient to use surveillance equipment.

Closed circuit television systems (CCTV) are one of the most popular ways to carry out covert surveillance. Cameras come in all sizes and can be placed inconspicuously almost anywhere. In order to obtain audio, wire taps can be placed on phones or audio surveillance equipment may be hidden in a suspect’s office, home or vehicle. Other ways to perform covert surveillance include aerial surveillance and the use of global positioning systems (GPS). A GPS placed on a person or moving vehicle can be tracked to monitor movement to specific locations. Similarly, aerial surveillance carried out by national governments can track objects on the ground.


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Post 3

My parents had a teddy bear that had a hidden camera in it. It sat on a shelf in the living room for years. My sister and I had no idea that it was hiding a camera and that it was running for most of the time we lived there until we found out the hard way. My parents went out of town and we had a party. We cleaned everything up and there was no danger of us getting caught. My parents confronted us about it the day after they got back. They actually showed us the video! There was no denying it and we were totally busted.

Post 2

There is a store in the mall by my house that sells all kinds of covert surveillance equipment. It is called Spy Gear and it has been in business there for years.

You can buy covert video surveillance equipment and similar stuff for audio recording. They have some really clever ways of hiding the recording devices.

It doesn't seem like spy shops are all that common. I would imagine that only really big cities have them. People looking for spy equipment can also go online to find what they are looking for

Post 1

Covert surveillance is the subject of one of my very favorite movies "The Conversation" directed by Francis Ford Coppola and starring Gene Hackman. The film is about an audio surveillance expert who is paid to secretly record a couples conversation. He begins to wonder what the tape will be used for and becomes obsessed with the conversation between the two people.

The film is a classic of that kind of paranoid 70s cinema. It is also largely about covert surveillance. Big parts of the movie are dedicated to showing how equipment works and how surveillance professionals carry out their work. People should see this movie because it is a great movie, but they should especially see it if they have an interest in audio surveillance.

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