The intrusion of privacy is nothing new. In Ovid’s Metamorphosis, Actaeon spies on beautiful Diana and her nymphs bathing in a spring. The phrase “Peeping Tom” comes from the 17th century legend of a tailor who was the only person to look at Lady Godiva as she rode naked on horseback through the streets of Coventry. For his lack of morals, Tom was “blinded by the wrath of heaven.” The paparazzi are constantly peeping and exposing, prying behind closed doors for sensationalist shots of the rich and famous. The other Diana had it bad in her day too, but the paparazzi that hounded the Princess of Wales pale in comparison to the aggressive stalkers who haunt our TMZ-obsessed culture.
The days of James Stewart spying on his neighbors out a rear window with a pair of binoculars are over. Modern voyeurism is high-tech; the cameras and zoom lenses are secret, hidden and camouflaged in pens and other gadgetry, and more like tools of the Cold War than tools used to titillate. While the art of snooping has changed with modern technology, the psychology of “looking” remains the same: the desire to glimpse into the secret lives of others is hardwired in our DNA. Criminal voyeurs, however, take it to a deviant extreme and then attempt to justify their immoral behavior by reasoning, as noted voyeur Gerald Foos did, that “there’s no invasion of privacy if no one complains.”
10. Webcam Peeper
In 2008, a 23-year old Florida University student who marketed himself as the dorm room computer repairman was arrested after police confiscated more than 20,000 photographs of women in various stages of undress. Craig Matthew Feigin installed Log Me In remote-access and Web Cam Spy Hacker applications on nine women’s computers that allowed him to secretly cyber-peep. Feigin got busted when one of the women noticed a constant “on” light on her computer and uncovered the illicit applications. Apparently, Feigin didn’t want to pay for one of the numerous cam-girl sites that have been in existence since the advent of Internet-connected cameras.
9. Sorority House Peeping Tom
Is there anything more cliche than a Peeping Tom ogling a sorority girl while she takes a shower? It’s the sort of scene played out in countless raunchy ‘80s teen comedies and slasher films. On a Saturday night in 2015, Purdue University police responded to a call from Delta Zeta sorority after a complaint was made that a man was inside their house, masturbating as he watched one of the sorority girls shower. Neil Albee, 44, fled the scene. Neighbors called the police a short time alter and reported a man “lurking in the shadows” behind the sorority house. Albee was arrested for voyeurism and unlawful entry.
8. Peeping Professor
From Alfred Hitchcock’s Norman Bates to Mark Lewis, the murderous filmmaker in Michael Powell’s film Peeping Tom, voyeurs come from all walks of life. Even “men of God” like secret video footage. In April 2016, the Gainsville Sun reported that Michael Arturo Vasquez, a former religion professor and department head at the University of Florida, was sentenced to five years’ probation in a video voyeurism case. Vasquez put a USB recording device in a teenaged family member’s closet and secretly recorded the girl in her underwear. The punishment? The peeping professor is prohibited from possessing pornographic material and must also undergo 30 months of counseling. Vasquez is also banned from the University of Florida.
7. BBC London Peeper
According to the Daily Mail, Benjamin Wilkins, a BBC London producer, hid a CCTV device in a smoke alarm and recorded his encounters with at least 10 women. Another secret camera was hidden in a “moveable ornament” in his South London bathroom. In 2008, Wilkins was jailed for eight months after admitting to 11 counts of voyeurism. The BBC peeper was caught when his girlfriend discovered a stash of DVDs labeled with the names of ex-girlfriends and BBC colleagues. Police recovered over 50 hours of footage. In a perverted narrative twist, the girlfriend who discovered the secret stash of DVDs is still dating Wilkins.
6. Steven Powell
In 2009, 62-year old Steven Powell was sentenced to 30 months in prison for recording images of two neighbors girls. But what really elevates the story to Dateline material is the fact that Steven Powell is the father-in-law of missing Utah woman Susan Powell. Susan disappeared from her house in 2009 and has never been found. Steven’s son, Josh, was the prime suspect in Susan Powell’s disappearance. Josh killed himself and his two sons at his home in Graham, Utah. When police investigators searched Steven Powell’s home for evidence in Susan’s disappearance, they discovered computer discs with thousands of images of women and girls, none of whom seemed to realize they were being recorded or photographed.
5. Luis Mijangos
Luis Mijangos, a California computer hacker and wheelchair-bound paraplegic, invaded the privacy of more than 100 women. Mijangos was more than a run-of-the-mill Peeping Tom; he was a perverse sextortionist on a sordid personal crime wave. Mijiangos hacked into women’s computes, stole sexually explicit photos, and then attempted to blackmail the women into making him personal po*n videos by threatening to post their photos on the Internet. Mijangos was eventually caught and sentenced to a six-year jail term. “He haunts me every time I use a computer,” said one of Mijango’s victims at his trial. Mijangos disguised his spyware as popular songs.
4. Peeping Physician
He had it all: money, education, and J. Crew good looks. And then he threw it away for a couple of high-tech lewd pictures. Dr. Adam Levinson was a prominent and well-respected urologist at Mount Sinai Hospital’s School of Medicine in Manhattan. On August 2, 2012, Dr. Levinson was caught in the Union Square subway station putting a small pen camera on a folded newspaper and upskirting female passengers. A search warrant of the doctor’s West Village apartment led to the discovery of other lewd photos of unknowing victims. Dr. Levinson was charged with second-degree unlawful surveillance and faces up to four years in jail. Mount Sinai Hospital has suspended Dr. Levinson for his conduct.
3. The Erin Andrews Ogler
In 2009, Michael David Barrett pleaded guilty to creating peepholes in hotel rooms and secretly shooting nude videos of sportscaster and TV personality Erin Andrews. Michael Barrett then posted the videos on Internet sites, including YouTube. Before it was taken down the nude clip topped Google’s list of most searched items, and hackers had a field day embedding malware into links pretending to be the video. Barrett went to prison for 2 ½ years. In March 2016, a jury awarded Erin Andrews $55 million in a civil lawsuit over the secret recording. Her original suit asked for $75 million.
2. The Voyeur’s Motel
The April 11 issue of The New Yorker features an article by Gay Talese titled “The Voyeur’s Hotel.” It tells the story of a hotelier named Gerald Foos who bought a hotel near Denver, Colorado in order to watch his guests have sex. However, Gerald Foos didn’t just watch his guests have sex; beginning in 1966, he meticulously recorded and documented their sexual behavior. Foos regarded his voyeurism as serious research, and he viewed himself as a sex researcher similar to Alfred Kinsey. Foos was never caught, and only now, 18 years after he sold his Denver motel (and 33 years since he began communicating with reporter Talese) has he decided to go public with his sex manuscript.
1. The Government
On some level, governments and security states have always diminished our autonomy, but the systematic and unknown invasions of privacy that take place today would frighten even George Orwell. The cache of secret documents leaked by Edward Snowden triggered a series of revelations about government voyeurism and surveillance. Our personal data has become transparent. Large cities have 24/7 surveillance cameras on every street corner. The NSA collects billions of records a day to track mobile phone users. And American and British spies hack online fantasy games to snoop on players. As the philosopher Michael J. Lynch said, “We look out the window of the Internet, and the Internet looks back in.”