Recent allegations that President Trump was caught on camera in various compromising positions in a Moscow hotel room got us wondering: how private is your hotel room, anyway?
The allegation that Trump was secretly filmed in a Russian hotel came about from a 35-page dossier of unverified allegations about ties between Trump and Russia compiled by a person who claims to be a former British intelligence operative. The unsubstantiated memos were in wide circulation among top U.S. intelligence and elected officials since last summer, but just this month, the report was published in full by BuzzFeed. Controversy about the publishing of unverified allegations immediately ensued.
Blackmail & Profit
Events like this aren’t uncommon in Russia. Secret footage used to leverage political moves has a long-running “tradition” in Russian politics. In Russia, it’s referred to as kompromat – which is a combination of two words: “compromising material,” or something we call blackmail. It’s part of what helped Vladimir Putin come into power as President of the Russian Federation in 2000.
Another example of someone being secretly filmed in a hotel room (and unlike the allegations about Trump, this event did indeed occur) is one you may remember seeing on the news last year.
Erin Andrews, a former ESPN reporter, was secretly filmed naked by a stalker in her Nashville hotel. The creepy and disturbing event happened like this: Michael David Barrett called the Nashville Marriott and asked if Andrews was staying at the hotel, to which they confirmed. Then he asked to be connected to Andrew’s room, to which the hotel put him through. Then he asked for a room right next to hers, to which they agreed. Barrett then used a hacksaw to alter the peephole to Andrews room and filmed her coming out of the shower.
His motive, he said, was to try to sell the footage online. Little did he know that his actions would lead to arrest, not profit.
Keeping your privacy in a hotel
After these incidents, how well can we know we aren’t being secretly filmed in a hotel? The scary thing is, we probably wouldn’t know. But the good news is that there are some basic ways you can keep your privacy and information safe while staying at a hotel.
Choose a hotel with restricted access. These hotels don’t allow anyone onto the guest floors without having a room key that allows access.
Give your first initial only and last name. Women traveling alone should use “Mrs.” to make it seem like you’re traveling with someone else.
Change your room number when you arrive. If anyone knew what room you were supposed to check into, well, they wouldn’t after you ask for a room change when checking in.
Call the front desk. Using your cell phone (not the room phone) call the front desk ask for yourself. If they give you a room number, that’s a bad sign; as they could be giving that number to anyone.
Put up the ‘Do Not Disturb’ sign. To make it look like the room is occupied when you go out, leave this sign on the door.
Avoid the ground floor. The ground floor is an easy target for robberies and room entries.
If someone calls claiming they’re from the hotel, verify with the front desk before letting them in.
Research the hotel’s security reviews before you decide where to stay.
Cover the peephole. Something as simple as a piece of tape will do the trick.
Hopefully you will never be secretly filmed in your hotel room for blackmail or profit. Though you don’t see many cases about this issue, it’s still something to think about. The fact that someone could potentially invade your privacy in such an unexpected and disturbing manner is real. The basic ways we discussed to ensure your security when staying at a hotel are simple measures you should take when traveling.