The Care Quality Commission (CQC) has said that it is considering using hidden cameras and mystery shoppers as part of a revamped inspection regime for care homes in England.
Andrea Sutcliffe, who was recently appointed as the body's adult social care chief inspector, said the techniques have the power to uncover neglect and abuse, but will need to be balanced so they do not affect residents' dignity.
As of next year, care homes will be rated in a system similar to that run for schools by Ofsted.
At present care homes have to adhere to 16 core standards, with them being graded as either compliant or non-compliant.
However, the new system would ask them to meet five requirements: safe; caring; effective; well led and responsive to people's needs.
They would start in the autumn of next year and the CQC aims to inspect all of the country's 25,000-plus care homes by March 2016.
"This is a fresh start for how care homes, home care and other adult social care services are inspected and regulated across the country," Mrs Sutcliffe said.
She added that she will be holding discussions with care providers, local authorities and the general public on the possible use of hidden cameras in the next few months.
The proposal has been criticised by Nick Pickles, director of the privacy campaign group Big Brother Watch.
He stated: "Care homes and social care premises are home to some of society’s most vulnerable people. To subject them to covert surveillance without reasonable cause for suspicion is both an attack on their privacy and their dignity."
He added that the move could give care homes the same sort of atmosphere "as a prison."
Calls for use of camera has been steadily growing since the BBC TV show Panorama uncovered the abuse of some residents at the Winterbourne View home near Bristol by using secret filming in 2011.
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