Calhoun: Wake-Up Call

Peeping toms watching live feeds in hotels: There oughta be a law -- and now, there is

Colorado will close a lascivious loophole today when Governor Bill Ritter signs SB 128, a law making it illegal to videotape other people (say, two girls trying on clothes in a hotel room) without their permission (say, through a peephole in the wall of a neighboring hotel room).

You'd think that such icky activities would already be a crime, but the law hadn't kept up with technology, as Araphoe County prosecutors discovered last year.

That's when a Nebraska family staying at a Tech Center hotel unknowingly unknowingly put on a show for David Fugate -- after which they discovered that they could only slap the video voyeur with a misdemeanor under an outdated eavesdropping law.

"A live feed, that was not illegal," says state Senator Joe Rice, whose district includes the Towne Place Suites, and was approached by hotel management to introduce a bill that would close the loophole. "All they could charge him with was a misdemeanor.

As he looked into the matter, Rice discovered that this wasn't one isolated incident in just one hotel. "You'd be surprised how prevalent this is," Rice says law enforcement officials told him.

Certainly Robert Reams, the father of the two videotaped girls -- eleven and fifteen -- was surprised when he was contacted by Arapahoe County officials last fall and learned that the family's August 2009 visit had been followed by Fugate, who'd used a wireless camera to watch the family, live, on his hotel room TV.

"Now, if you do this -- recording, taking pictures -- and it's your second time, it's a felony, not a misdemeanor," says Rice. "And if it's a child, it's a felony the first time."

The law applies not just to hotels, but to stores, locker rooms and anywhere else a video voyeur might get busy. "The technology changes so fast, it's really frightening," says Erin Jemison, interim executive director of the Colorado Coalition Against Sexual Assault, who testified for the bill. "Half the times the victims don't know it's happening."

Hotel industry reps will be on hand this afternoon for the bill-signing ceremony. But don't expect to see the Reams family: They're suing the hotel.

KEEP WESTWORD FREE... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Patricia Calhoun co-founded Westword in 1977; she’s been the editor ever since. She’s a regular on the weekly CPT12 roundtable Colorado Inside Out, played a real journalist in John Sayles’s Silver City, once interviewed President Bill Clinton while wearing flip-flops, and has been honored with numerous national awards for her columns and feature-writing.
Contact: Patricia Calhoun