Privacy & Security

You May Be a Suspicious Hotel Guest

Do you routinely put the "do not disturb" sign on your hotel room door? If you do, you may fit the profile of a suspected terrorist, and the FBI and Homeland Security Administration want to know about it.

The FBI and HSA have released a joint bulletin to hotels throughout the world alerting them to potentially suspicious activities by hotel guests representing "potential indicators of terrorist activity."

Suspicious behaviors by guests include:

  • Avoiding questions typically asked of hotel registrants
  • Requesting a specific room or floor at the hotel
  • Paying cash
  • Using payphones for outgoing calls
  • Use of Internet cafes when Internet is available in the hotel
  • Requesting that their registration at the hotel not be divulged
  • Evading hotel staff, including "refusal of housekeeping services for extended periods"
  • Registration through a third party
  • Entering and leaving the hotel using entrances and exits other than the lobby
  • Leaving unattended vehicles near the hotel building
  • Non-compliance with other hotel policies

Reviewing this list, it's obvious that I'm a terrorist. Let's review a typical hotel stay, say, in Zurich.

  • Avoiding questions. After a long flight, I check into my hotel.  At the registration desk, I refuse to provide my email address to avoid spam.
  • Requesting a specific floor. I prefer a quiet room on a higher floor and ask for it when I register. Terrorists like peace and quiet, too, at least until it's time to go "boom."
  • Paying cash. Since my credit card charges a 3% fee for overseas transactions, I often pay in cash.
  • Using payphones. Foreign hotels typically charge $3 or more per minute for outgoing calls to the USA. So, I often purchase a prepaid phone card and make the calls for 1/10 the typical in-room rate from a pay phone.
  • Using Internet cafes. After one hotel stay in Zurich, at checkout I received a bill for SFr 200 for Internet use in my room. The hotel billed by the minute rather than a flat daily fee. My mistake for not asking, but I would have happily used an Internet cafe had I known in advance.
  • Evading hotel staff. I often work from my room, and restrict access to it for security and to avoid possible theft. Sometimes I sleep on the same sheets and use the same towels for two or three days. I always thought I was just a slob, but now I know that I'm a terrorist as well.
  • Avoiding the lobby. I will enter and leave a hotel through whatever entrance or exit is most convenient to my room. Obviously, that makes me a terrorist.
  • Leaving unattended vehicles near the hotel. I don't usually have a vehicle with me when I travel internationally, but when I do I park near the hotel, generally in the hotel parking lot. Once I park the vehicle, it's unattended. After all, it's a bit hard to take it into the room with me.
  • Non-compliance with other hotel policies. I'm notorious for such nefarious actions as storing food or drink in the min-bar refrigerator, even if the refrigerator is reserved for mini-bar items. Sometimes I even take an apple from the breakfast buffet to snack on later.

Yes, that unshaven, white, middle-aged guy with the receding hairline slithering out the side exit to the Internet cafe might just be the next Osama bin Laden. He's carrying a laptop and looks a little confused. Stop him now and send him to Guantanamo Bay for waterboarding. You never know, he just might confess to inappropriate use of a hotel mini-bar. Not to mention being a known or suspected breakfast buffer terrorist.

Copyright (c) 2012 by Mark Nestmann

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