Photographers have fond memories of the original spy camera, the Minox. Invented just before WWII, and reportedly seeing some small amount of action in that war, it became a spy staple during the 50s and 60s. Fitting neatly into the pocket, and concealable in the hand, at only 130 grams, it was a convenient and reliable little camera for surveillance. Able to focus down to 20cm, and often provided with a carrying chain that included a bead at that optimal focus point, it was very useful for document copying.
The small negative (11x8mm), about 1/4 as large as the more common 35mm format, limited the quality. Letter-sized enlargements were not very satisfactory. The limited resolution of such a small piece of analog film meant that reproduced documents were kinda fuzzy, but if carefully photographed, they were certainly legible.
Today, everybody has a sophisticated spy camera hidden on their telephone, and it doesn’t take a degree in espionage to use them. An iPhone is fully capable of taking a picture that well exceeds the quality of a cheap 35mm camera, let alone the grainy black and white images that were typical of the Minox. Smart phones take color pictures, they have sound recording devices, they can record movies, and they can store gigabytes of captured data.
Even during the time of film cameras, waving around a Minox spy camera was the sort of act that could easily attract attention. You really need a moment alone together with you, your Minox, and your targets’s documents, or somebody is going to wonder why you are holding that thing up to your face and pointing it at the blueprints. In contrast, what could be more natural in the office today than talking on a multi-function phone? If somebody is holding their phone in front of their facing and giggling, are they watching a downloaded video? Or are they surreptitiously taking a picture of the screen?
Some organizations do forbid the possession of personal recording devices. Obviously, if an organization is so concerned about recording that they forbid the Furby, then they won’t let employees carry today’s smartphone past the front desk. Last year, I visited a commercial organization and was asked at reception if I had a picture-taking device. I admitted that I did, and was asked to leave my phone in a bucket for the duration. One of my companions whispered “You aren’t supposed to tell them that your phone has a camera.” I subsequently visited another commercial organization which warned that the taking of pictures was forbidden. Most recently, I was stopped in my own bank for taking pictures of the beautiful 1920s artwork in the main public lobby.
Ultimately, this is a data leakage threat that most organizations, and individuals, are going to have to live with. Normal people want cell phones, and other than the Amish and senior citizens, the majority of phone users would rather have camera capabilities than not. Like access to social networking, younger employees are going to take it for granted that they can bring their camera phones to work. Maybe some vendor will come up with a GPS-linked Mobile Device Management that disables the camera when an employee walks in the front door, but in the meantime, publicized policy is the only practical form of camera control for most organizations. Some organizations, such as espionage agencies, engineering centers, and perhaps hospitals, will have to enforce this policy.