Saturday, July 9, 2016

Is Moscow about to Install Video Cameras in Hotel Rooms?

Paul Goble

            Staunton, July 9 – Those who stayed in hotels in the USSR generally assumed that there were microphones in the lamps and that the KGB was listening to them, an assumption that was not only the source of numerous jokes but meant that many visitors were careful not to say anything that might attract the interest of the Soviet security services.

            Now, one Russian hotelier says, there are proposals circulating in the Russian culture ministry, which oversees hotels, calling for the installation of video cameras in at least some rooms, a step that Yunis Teymurkhanly says is being pushed in the name of enhanced security for the 2018 World Cup (

            Teymurkhanly, who manages the Helvetia Hotel in Moscow, says that officials nervous about security threats have now turned their attention to the hospitality industry as shown by the proposed draft law, not yet passed by the Duma, that would prevent people from renting out rooms in their apartments to visitors.

            If this ban is approved, and Teymurkhanly says that it almost certainly will be, such private arrangements will become almost impossible because anyone wishing to rent out a room would have to do so without any advertising or access to booking sites  and “to continue to work ‘in the shadow’ in this branch is impossible.”

            This measure, the hotel manager says, is being promoted as a means of protecting residents and their neighbors; but in fact, it is about ensuring “the control of the authorities over housing” because many think that “illegal immigrants and criminal elements” are the primary users of such hostels.

            But now, “signs of panic” about security in the hotel industry have arisen in the culture ministry, where some media outlets are reporting that a document is being prepared which would require hotels to check the bags of guests and even to install video cameras in the entry ways of guest rooms.

            The culture ministry for its part, Teymurkhanly says, has hurried to deny “this very strange proposal. But as is well known, there is no smoke without fire.” And the Russian media and social networks are full of discussions about the possibility of cameras in hotel rooms, given that as small as rooms are, cameras will convert the rooms into scenes from a reality show.

            Putting such cameras in hotel rooms, he continues, is “an absolutely absurd and h opeless undertaking.” Such a step contradicts the basic principles of the hospitality industry, wouldn’t work (guests would figure out how to cover up the lenses), and would be prohibitively expensive for the hotels.
            But more to the point, he argues, “to track everyone without exception” would constitute an effort like “looking for a needle in a haystack” because there would be so much filming with so little prospect of finding out anything of interest even to the vigilant Russian security agencies.

            Proposals to have Russian hotels check the baggage of guest are also misplaced: that is not their job, and they are not equipped to do it.  But some version of the currently existing “security passport” which officials give to hotels that meet certain standards may not be a bad idea, Teymurkhanly suggests.

            Hotels can use the expertise of those whose job it is to ensure security, but “neither bans [on the renting of private housing to guests] nor baggage checking nor even ‘a security passport’ will solve the problem of security in hotels, he says. Security is a task for others, trained by the state to protect society. Hotel operators aren’t in this category and don’t want to be.

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