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ESPN’s Erin Andrews case: Tough questions for the hotel industry as Stalkers Run Wild

from www.usatoday.com – Update 4:45 pm: Michael David Barrett appears in court; judge lets him free on $4,500 bail with restrictions. Federal prosecutor says Barrett has filmed other women in hotel rooms while nude. See bottom of post for update.

Original post: Back in July, when naked videos of ESPN’s Erin Andrews in her hotel room surfaced on the Internet making her a national story, Hotel Check-In asked readers, “How private are we in hotel rooms?”

And now that a traveling insurance salesman has been arrested in the case and we’ve learned more about his alleged stalking and filming scheme, more people are wondering the same thing.

On Sunday, Andrews’ lawyer – Marshall Grossman – questioned hotel security because of the way that the suspected stalker gained access to where she was staying, according to the Los Angeles Times. Grossman said that the case “has significance far beyond Ms. Andrews.”

FBI agents charge that Michael David Barrett, 47, contacted the Nashville Marriott at Vanderbilt University to request a room next to Andrews. She had stayed there on Sept. 4 for work. She had been given room 1051, and he was given room 1049, according to the FBI complaint. The rooms were together in an alcove, the complaint says.

Here’s what the records in the Marriott’s computer showed, according to the complaint: “INFO-GST RQST TO RM NXT TO (Andrews)” and another line listed this email address, [email protected].

Grossman told the LA Times that the Marriott not only granted Barrett’s request but gave them “rooms at the end of the hall, in an alcove, where anyone would be free to do just about whatever they wanted to do in complete privacy.” Those decisions, he told the LA Times, will “likely serve as a casebook study on poor hotel management.”

The FBI alleges that the peephole of Andrews’ hotel-room door was tampered with a saw, which then let someone film through it with a cell-phone camera.

Grossman said that the Marriott Nashville staff was familiar with Andrews.

“One can’t pass this off to simple ignorance,” Grossman told the LA Times, adding that the results could have been worse.

“You don’t have to extrapolate very far from this to think in terms of somebody out to do even more harm and greater mischief than taping someone.”

The FBI complaint also says that Barrett called 14 hotels in Milwaukee in July 2008 to find out which one Andrews was staying in while she covered a Major League Baseball game, the LA Times story notes.

Although hotels aren’t supposed to give out any information about guests, Barrett somehow found out that Andrews would stay at the Radisson, where he booked a room, the story notes. Barrett didn’t check into the Radisson, but FBI agents found a similarly tampered peephole where Andrews stayed.

Then Radisson’s chief engineer who’d worked there for 15 years told an FBI agent that in his 15 years, he “had had never seen a “peepsight” (peephole device) in that condition,” according to the FBI complaint.

Celebrity or not, hotel guest information is supposed to be top secret

Joe McInerney, CEO of the hotel industry’s American Hotel and Lodging Association, told the LA Times that privacy is an issue “not just for celebrities.”

Most hotels do not allow booking people in adjacent rooms merely because one of the guests requests it, he told the LA Times.

“They don’t know what your motives are,” McInerney told the LA Times, adding many hotels will not even confirm or deny a guest’s presence.

More nude female hotel guests filmed through peepholes?

Yet even more troubling for travelers is this significant allegation tucked in the LA Times story: The FBI complaint says that the same person who posted eight videos of Andrews on the Internet also other videos of nude women in hotels through peepholes. Hotel Check-In will look into this significant allegation this week.

So what are the hotels saying?

The LA Times story says that Radisson representatives were unavailable Sunday. For Marriott International, Marriott spokesman John Wolf said the company’s only comment would be a prepared statement. “The security and privacy of our guests is a priority,” Wolf said, adding that Marriott is cooperating in the investigation. Hotel Check-In will check in with Marriott and Radisson again today.

The LA Times also said that Barrett’s attorney, Richard Beuke, was unavailable for comment Sunday.

Readers: Considering Erin Andrews’ experience – and the FBI’s allegation that other female hotel guests have been taped secretly through hotel-door peepholes, does this make you question your own sense of privacy and safety in hotels?

Update 4:45 pm Monday: U.S. Magistrate Judge Arlander Keys let the man accused of stalking and filming Erin Andrews go free on bail but restricted his freedom, according to a story by the Chicago Sun-Times. He placed David Michael Barrett on a 9 p.m.-to-6 a.m. curfew and barred him from using the Internet at home or work. Barrett can go to go to work but is confined to him to his home the rest of the time, the story says. Barrett must adhere to the restrictions until he appears before a judge in Los Angeles on Oct. 23, the story says.

Federal prosecutors, meanwhile, described Barrett, 47, of Westmont, Ill., as a man who tracked Andrews’ movements in a “methodical” manner, the Sun-Times story says.

“This was not just a whimsical act,” Grimes told the court, according to the Sun-Times story. “This was an obsession, one that was acted out…one he carried out through various states.”

Grimes also described Barrett as a danger to other women, because authorities found similar videos of other nude women sent from the same Web site used by Barrett, the Sun-Times story says.

“Yes, Judge, there are other women,” Grimes said, according to the Associated Press. “He has used his computer to disseminate these videos to the world.”

Authorities confiscated two computers and cell phones used by Barrett, the AP story says. Grimes said he “feels strongly that those items will provide further evidence.”

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