A Sears security guard tweeted pics of patrons breastfeeding

Is security cam footage of mothers fair game?

By Mary Elizabeth Williams

Senior Writer

Published July 23, 2014 2:28PM (EDT)

            (<a href='http://www.shutterstock.com/gallery-1050958p1.html'>Dmytro Vietrov</a> via <a href='http://www.shutterstock.com/'>Shutterstock</a>)
(Dmytro Vietrov via Shutterstock)

When you're a mother of a new baby, you've got enough on your mind without wondering if some creepy department store employee is tweeting out photos of you breastfeeding. But ladies, now you can worry about that too – because that's apparently what one Sears employee has been doing.

As first reported on the Paa.la blog, a Sears employee was until recently tweeting out security cam images of breastfeeding moms at his store, with commentary like "Apparently if you need a place to breast feed your baby, Sears is the place to do it," and, "In honor of donut day here some milk to go along with your donuts!" [sic] The user, who has since deleted his account, had described himself in his bio as "Catching thieves day by day at a sears near you." Sears has since responded by saying it "respects the privacy of all shoppers. We regret this isolated incident. We have investigated this incident and terminated the associate who was involved."

Clearly, violating customer privacy is not a Sears corporate policy, and not to sound ungrateful, but, that's it? As the We're Parents blog noted earlier this week, "It's very likely that this security officer had to record the footage, then use another system to rewind the footage, then take a photo of the paused footage with a camera phone, and then upload the photos to his Twitter account. That seems like a lot of work to me, don't you agree?" A lot of work that seems to involve tampering with and disseminating a store's security footage, aka its private property. That's a serious offense.

Yet the Paa.la blog has noted that the security guard identified himself as a high school senior, which is why she – and I – decline to identify him by name. The behavior, it would seem, was the act of a dumb teenager. And, unfortunately, as security cams and cell phones continue to make having your picture taken an inevitable consequence of public life, there's rarely any reasonable expectation of privacy any more, or much legal recourse we have when said privacy is violated.

But Sears could go a long way toward easing the concerns of its patrons -- who are currently venting on Twitter and the retailer's Facebook page -- with a few more words about how it wants to proceed going forward. A vague statement of regret achieves little to reassure shoppers. Breastfeeding is normal and natural; leering at and mocking women for doing it is not. It wouldn't take much for a corporate statement promising to include privacy awareness in its loss-prevention staff training, and a mention of support for nursing mothers. That would be an intelligent way of taking a potential social media debacle and turning it into an opportunity for goodwill. Any large chain with thousands of employees is going to have a few who behave terribly. But I promise, if Sears wants free publicity of the good kind, it just needs to tell nursing moms that they're welcome and safe in their stores.

By Mary Elizabeth Williams

Mary Elizabeth Williams is a senior writer for Salon and author of "A Series of Catastrophes & Miracles."

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Breastfeeding Privacy Retail Sears