Obscene Interference

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Parents take extra caution in keeping obscene material away from their little ones. There are all sorts of blocks available to limit access to questionable television or Internet websites. But as Call For Action reporter Betty Sexton discovered, an innocent child's toy somehow eavesdropped on a stranger's bedroom.

For young girls, just about any Barbie toy is hot. But a Colorado Springs family got more than they bargained for when they bought a wireless Barbie video camera. "All of a sudden, she comes out of the bedroom and says to Pop, her grandpa, that there's a man on her TV."

Janice Mayhew says her 9-year-old daughter, Marissa, loved playing with her new Barbie video camera. She videotaped the mountains and her cousin singing. But then all of a sudden her signal, visible on her TV, was interrupted by video of a man in a bedroom.
"We went in there and, sure enough, there was a man on the TV and instantaneously, he started to disrobe," says Janice.

This is the reaction from Marissa’s grandfather, Robert Siano. "This man took his shorts off and threw them across the room and I jumped in front of her and said, ‘You get out of here!’ And we turned it off, and I'm going, ‘What the hell is this?’"

Janice asked her father to try and get rid of the signal, which appeared to be coming from a stranger's bedroom. The unit's receiver is equipped with 2 channels. But switching from channel A to channel B only resulted in the bedroom scene reappearing a few minutes later.

The family refused to let Marissa play with the camera. They'd occasionally check it themselves, hoping the signal would disappear, but it didn't. In fact, the scenes got worse. "Totally shocking! Absolutely unbelievable! The pictures that come in from this bedroom are pornographic, period," says Robert.

Thinking a crime was being committed, Robert called the sheriff's department, the FBI, the FCC, even the Justice Department. But no one had any answers for him. So he made a Call For Action and we tried to figure it out.

KKTV’s assistant chief engineer Ray Uberecken looked at the unit and explained that since the Barbie video camera was wireless, it was picking up interference from another wireless camera nearby. “In the FCC's terms, that is interference because two people trying to use the same channel could be interfering with each other."

Ray says the amount of spectrum space the FCC allots to wireless products, like computer networks, telephones, or cameras, is limited. So with more items sharing the same frequency, interference will become more common.

In fact, Mattel, which makes the Barbie video camera, warns about potential interference with a label on the bottom of the camera, as well as one in the instruction booklet. Ray also points out, if the user of this camera switches channels, he might be able to pick up Marissa's signal too. "He has to accept that, just like you do, he's got a sheet just like that and he's got a little label on the bottom of his camera that says the same thing, probably," says Ray.

We wanted to help the family and allow Marissa to be able to play with her camera. So we called Palm Vid, which manufactures and sells video surveillance systems, including hidden cameras. Vic Sauget offered to change the camera's channel to get rid of this scene, but then all of a sudden, the signal vanished. “In multi-family units, when two families, sometimes four families, share the same common wall, that signal does have a tendency to bleed over," he says.

Vic and attorneys we talked to say, no laws were being broken. The stranger in this bedroom, whether he knew it or not, was broadcasting a signal for anyone to see. That’s the big legal issue when someone uses a hidden camera in a bedroom, bathroom, dressing room, or locker room without the users knowing it. "The laws are real specific. These are considered to be very private, personal, and in some cases intimate rooms. You just can't have them in there,” says Vic.

We called Mattel, the maker of the camera, and spokespeople say this is the first time they've heard of anything like this happening. The bottom line---the next time you plug in your wireless camera, beware, especially if you live in an apartment or a densely populated area. You could pick up some obscene interference.