The health and social care watchdog in England is considering using hidden cameras to help carry out inspections of care homes.
The Care Quality Commission unveiled the proposal as one of a number of changes to the way it monitors care providers.
The new chief inspector of adult social care has outlined her priorities in a document published ahead of a public consultation next spring.
Andrea Sutcliffe - one of three chief inspectors appointed by the CQC - said the organisation would hold discussions over “the potential use of hidden surveillance”.
The document, A Fresh Start for the Regulation and Inspection of Adult Social Care, states: “We would… like to have an open conversation with people about the use of mystery shoppers and hidden cameras, and whether they would contribute to promoting a culture of safety and quality, while respecting people’s rights to privacy and dignity.
“Such a conversation should cover the use of these techniques by the public, providers, or CQC.”
Davina Ludlow, director of care home directory carehome.co.uk, warned about the possible impact on care users and staff.
“Whilst safeguarding is vital, so too is dignity and privacy,” she said.
“We urge full and meaningful consultation before digital spies infiltrate the care sector. Not only will covert surveillance impact on residents’ freedom, it may also have a knock-on effect on the motivation of staff.
“We need to train, support and inspire the next generation of carers, not create a big brother culture where people are afraid to do this vital job.”
Other proposals include awarding ratings to every care home and adult social care service by March 2016 to help people make informed decisions about their care.
Ms Sutcliffe, who started in her job last week, also wants to recruit an army of ordinary people with personal experience of the care system to help carry out inspections.
She said: “This is a fresh start for how care homes, home care, and other adult social care services are inspected and regulated across the country. I will be leading CQC’s new approach by making more use of people’s views and by using expert inspection teams involving people who have personal experience of care.
“We will always be on the side of the people who use care services. For every care service we look at, I want us to ask: ‘Is this good enough for my mum?’. If it is, this should be celebrated. If not, then as the regulator we will do something about it.
“Adult social care is the largest and fastest growing sector that CQC regulates and so it is imperative that we get it right.”
A spokesman for the Alzheimer’s Society said: “We welcome these plans to overhaul adult social care inspections at a time when public confidence in the care sector is at an all time low.”