Employee Fired After Posting Pictures Of DHS Vehicles Parked In Hotel Parking Lot

from the no-expectation-of-privacy...-or-security dept

What happens in public isn't afforded an expectation of privacy -- unless you're the Department of Homeland Security. The DHS is all about shutting down people taking photos in, around or of public structures. According to the many piles of useless paperwork compiled by the many useless Fusion Centers, the most effective terrorist weapon is any device that captures still images or video.

The nation is loaded with phone-wielding terrorists. But thanks to the swift corrective action applied by a former Secret Service agent and the multi-billion dollar agency, guests at the Drury Park Plaza Hotel in Chesterfield, Missouri, are safe from the terrorist activity of 28-year-old US Navy veteran (and now, former hotel Houseman) Mark Paffrath.

Mark says that on Thursday after work he snapped 2 photographs and a short video of several dozen Homeland Security vehicles in the parking garage. He then uploaded them to his Facebook page. In his post he writes "why are all the cop cars here...I wonder if it has anything to do with Ferguson", he also included the hashtags #Ferguson #NoJusticeNoPeace.
Hooray for the First Amendment! … oh, wait.
On Friday, shortly after arriving to work at the Drury Plaza Hotel, Mark stated that he was called to the office of Jeff Baker, the General Manager. Upon arriving Mr. Baker advised Mark that he needed to remove the photos and video from Facebook. Mark immediately complied and removed the post. Mark then continued and finished his shift.
A private company decides to insert itself into a situation where no one -- not even the DHS -- needed to step in. Having achieved its goal of suppression, one would think the story ends here. But it doesn't.
Saturday, Mark stated after being at work no more than 30 minutes, he was again called to the General Manager's office. Waiting for him was Jim Bohnert, Director of Security for Drury Hotels Company, LLC. Mark told ASN that Mr. Bohnert advised him that his Facebook posts almost cost the company a $150,000 contract with the Department of Homeland Security and because of this he was being terminated.
Jim Bohnert -- formerly of the Secret Service and the St. Louis Police Department -- had more to say on the matter. He called the former military member a "terrorist" and told him he had "dishonorably served his country" by posting pictures of vehicles parked in a garage where any guest or employee of the hotel could have seen them. In fact, any member of the public could have seen them simply by entering the garage, which is not secured. Argus Streaming News writers were able to see "over 100" DHS vehicles in the garage while driving through it on their way to speak to the hotel's manager.

Bohnert also threatened Paffrath with arrest if the photos were reposted (presumably by someone with more power than Director of Security for Drury Hotels, Bohnert's current position).

Now, it's quite obvious the DHS was unhappy that someone gave away their super-secret hideout, one that is a) a structure accessible by the public and b) littered with dozens of vehicles clearly marked as belonging to the DHS. If secrecy is what the DHS agents were looking for, maybe they should have arranged for a fleet of less clearly-marked vehicles. You can't -- at least not logically -- roll up in a DHS convoy and then demand that no one acknowledge this fact or speak about it to the outside world.

Apparently, hotel management thought this was a containable circumstance. A message written to hotel employees by a supervisor notes several things, the first of which is the open acknowledgement that employees are going to want to talk about a hotel full of DHS agents.
Mark told ASN that there is a large whiteboard which the hotel management writes notices to employees and on Friday, after he was told to remove the Facebook post the Front End Manager wrote a message that reads "The Department of Homeland Security Group: Confidential in nature, which means brag to your family about it after they check out".
Why the DHS's stay would be "confidential in nature" is beyond me. Despite having the word "security" in its title, it's not an agency that's always "entitled" to secrecy -- and certainly not when it announces its presence with over 100 official DHS vehicles. The DHS does perform undercover investigations (see also: The Great Kansas City Panty Raid of '14), but a massive presence isn't likely associated with an undercover investigation.

The hotel may have had the right to fire the employee for violating guest confidentiality by posting photos of the parking garage, but even that argument is tough to make. Private companies are not government entities and business policies aren't federal law, but in defense of license plate readers, law enforcement agencies have long held that vehicles are not personally identifiable -- i.e., a license plate identifies the vehicle, not the driver. So, a parking lot full of vehicles -- especially government-issued vehicles -- identifies nothing other than the agency present. In any event, nothing noted here seems to have anything to do with company policies (Bohnert mentioned no violated policies in his dismissal of Paffrath) and everything to do with soothing the frayed nerves of the DHS.

Likewise, privacy is not security, but a parking lot crammed with easily-identifiable government vehicles isn't anyone's notion of "secure." Paffrath's posting didn't destroy the DHS's nonexistent security but it did apparently irritate the hotel's head of security, who then called for the ceremonial sacrifice of an employee on the altar of Homeland Security.


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  1. identicon
    PRMan, 24 Nov 2014 @ 8:22am

    Re: Re: Guess what?

    If a room is $300 a night, it only takes 500 people to offset the difference.

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