Recently, law enforcement officials arrested a man suspected of stalking and secretly videotaping ESPN reporter Erin Andrews while she was naked in her hotel room and distributing the video online. (Deadspin has the criminal complaint.) Officials allege that Michael David Barrett used a hacksaw to change the peephole on at least two different hotel-room doors in order to surreptitiously film into the rooms.
Andrews’s case has ignited a debate about privacy. The Chicago Tribune discusses the substantial problems faced by individuals who wish to protect their privacy by stopping the distribution of images or videos online.
For women like Andrews, options are limited once embarrassing videos are online, said her attorney, Marshall Grossman of Los Angeles. “As quickly as images come down, they show up, like seeds in a forest. They’re constantly sprouting.”
Hiring an attorney is expensive, he said. So are sending out “cease and desist” orders and monitoring Internet sites to make sure they take down the content. […]
Barrett has been charged with one count of interstate stalking using harassing and intimidating surveillance, a federal crime.
But in state courts, those convicted of Internet privacy crimes often just face misdemeanors, Grossman said. Federal laws like the one Barrett has been charged with have “a lot of teeth,” he said, but are restrictive in how they can be applied. “It requires interstate action,” he said, as well as an “intent to use electronic surveillance in such a way as to inflict death, serious bodily harm or emotional distress on the victim.”
And in the forums at USA Today, there are questions about security and privacy fears associated with hotels.
What’s prompting people — especially women — to lose some faith in hotel privacy and security?
The unsettling hotel-related details laid out in the FBI’s criminal complaint against traveling insurance salesman Michael David Barrett, who was arrested Friday on charges of interstate stalking. The FBI complaint alleges (posted on Deadspin.com) that:
- In July 2008, Barrett called around 14 Milwaukee hotels until he found one (Ramada Conference Center, formerly the Radisson Airport) that allegedly confirmed that Andrews would be a guest. Though he never checked in, it was discovered that the peephole in her room had been altered to allow viewing from outside the room,
- Though Andrews stayed at the Ramada in July 2008, the FBI agents found the tampered peephole still in place during their Sept. 30, 2009 visit,
- In September 2008, Barrett’s somehow learned that Andrews was staying at the Marriott Nashville,
- At the Marriott, Barrett requested the room next to Andrews – a request that was filed in the computer reservation system and accepted, without Andrews’ permission. Barrett checked into the room next to Andrews’ room in a private alcove at the end of a hallway, […]
And, though investigators believe that the suspected stalker targeted Andrews, assistant U.S. attorney Steve Grimes told a Chicago judge on Monday something that perhaps is even more unsettling for women who aren’t on TV: Barrett allegedly filmed more than one female hotel guest in the privacy of their hotel room.
About the contention that a hotel confirmed Andrews was a guest, a writer at the Chicago Sun-Times asks, “When a person who is in the public eye stays at your establishment, shouldn’t extra care be taken to insure their anonymity and personal privacy?” The columnist continues, “Again, the real perp here is the person doing the taping — and I have a hard time believing anyone at any of these hotels looked the other way — but it certainly seems bizarre that hack-sawing and drilling could be taking place in the halls without anyone noticing.”
The Associated Press notes that the hotel industry to reexamining privacy and security policies in the wake of the Andrews case.
Until now, requests for adjacent rooms have been handled inconsistently throughout the hotel industry. If you ask for a room next to another guest, some hotels will call the other guest for consent, but many will simply go ahead and book it without confirming with the other party.
“There is no consistent policy within individual brands or across the industry,” said John Burns, president of Hospitality Technology Consulting in Scottsdale, Ariz. “It is in the hotel industry’s cultural DNA to attempt to satisfy guests’ ‘adjacent room’ or ‘connecting room’ requests.” […]
But Burns said “given the recent focus on this issue, I expect that policies related to handling this request are under consideration both at the property and brand level.”
Joe McInerney, CEO of the American Hotel & Lodging Association, confirmed that his organization “sent an advisory to our members asking them to review all their guest privacy procedures and all of their security procedures to make sure their staff are doing everything they should be doing.”
The Associated Press also notes that this case raises questions about peepholes in hotels — whether they are sufficiently tamper-proof. A travel writer recommends a simple solution, “Put a piece of duct tape over the inside of the peephole.”