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You don’t need a camera for dorm room security. Here’s what to do instead

No one really thinks about dorm room security until something bad happens. That’s the unfortunate reality, but much like anything else, preventative measures can help keep potential threats from becoming all too real. In terms of dorm room security, there are a number of things students can do to protect themselves.

In 2018, the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) reported that burglaries accounted for 34% of all criminal incidents against persons and property on campuses. It’s a reminder for both parents and students that dorm room security needs to be prioritized. While the automatic response would be to have some sort of security camera installed inside the dorm room, it’s a far more complicated matter than you think.

Can you have cameras in dorm rooms?

This is a prickly topic given the privacy issues, but it fundamentally follows the same rules as having a security camera installed in the home. Some college campuses have security cameras installed throughout the various areas around dormitories, like entrances and other common areas. These cameras are typically handled and operated by security personnel, or are simply there for continuous recording.

Arlo Pro camera wall mounted outdoors.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Inside of a dorm room where students sleep is another matter, are we’ll be focusing on this particular situation. Cameras are in nearly everything we own. From our smartphones to our laptops, it’s honestly really tough to find a situation when a camera isn’t present these days. Individual schools may have their own rules on installing security cameras inside of dorm rooms, but if you share a room with someone, you should probably have their explicit consent.

There have already been countless crimes of people using hidden cameras in dorm rooms to record activities, some serious enough that charges of invasion of privacy have been reported. The Electronic Communication Privacy Act of 1986 prohibits the interception of audio communications without consent. However, it does not address the act of video recording without an audio recording element.

Unobtrusive ways to secure dorm rooms

Cameras are often seen as obtrusive devices, given how they could be used in nefarious ways, but dorm dwellers still have other solutions that could ease concerns about potential crimes. Many smart home devices exist right now that offer peace of mind and respect privacy, while offering instantaneous awareness of what’s happening when you’re not there. Best of all, these solutions are easy on just about any budget.

Door sensors

Ring Alarm (2nd Gen) Door Sensor on door
John Velasco / Digital Trends

One of the easiest and most unobtrusive ways to secure a dorm room is to use door sensors that can inform users whenever they’ve been tripped or activated. Window sensors act in the same way, but are specifically placed on windows to go off whenever they’re opened or closed.

Most DIY security systems often come with kits that include them, but there are others that can be used without the need of a full-blown system. For example, the Amazon Echo Show 10 (3rd Gen) acts as a Zigbee hub, allowing users to easily connect Zigbee-compatible door sensors.

Motion sensors

Aura motion sensor plugged into outlet.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Another unobtrusive option is to use a motion sensor in the dorm room that can definitively identify whether there’s been movement or not. Thresholds can be set to eliminate false alarms that could be set off due to movement from small appliances, like a standing fan, or a pet. For larger dormitories that may include separate rooms, installing a motion sensor can help to identify motion detection in specific rooms.

Smart speakers

Amazon Echo Dot placed on side table.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Interestingly enough, dorm room residents can leverage smart speakers to help watch over their spaces when they’re not around. Services such as Nest Aware for Google Assistant-compatible smart speakers and Alexa Guard for Echo devices can monitor for sounds such as smoke detector sirens or breaking glass. There’s a slightly more advanced option, Alexa Guard Plus, that tacks on a higher subscription cost, but it does more by playing sounds on your speaker to ward off intruders — as well as getting access to emergency responders.

Since it’s a device with an active microphone, it’s a good idea to ask roommates or other individuals living in the dorm for their consent to use one.

Better safe than sorry

No one likes that feeling of Big Brother watching, which is probably why there is reluctance to installing security cameras in dorm rooms. These unobtrusive options can at the very least offer some sense of awareness of what’s happening when you’re not there. Through the use of mobile apps that tie in with the services of these devices, dorm residents can know what’s going on when they’re not around — without compromising the privacy of others.

Hex Home Wi-Fi Motion Sensor plugged into outlet.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

There are newer technologies that continue to come out, offering more discreet and unobtrusive ways to monitor in the home. The Hex Home system, for example, are sensors that can be placed in rooms to monitor for movement by measuring disturbances in the Wi-Fi signals. It’s an intriguing new way of knowing who’s there or not, but it comes at a steeper price than some traditional motion sensors. Nevertheless, it’s the development of these unique technologies that shows us there are ways to maintain dorm room security without compromising on privacy.

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John Velasco
John is the Smart Home editor at Digital Trends covering all of the latest tech in this emerging market. From uncovering some…
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