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How Private Is That Dressing Room?

NORTH TEXAS (CBSDFW.COM) - Who's watching you while you shop at the mall?  The door to the department store fitting room may be closed, but that doesn't always make much of a difference.

CBS 11 found fitting rooms at stores all over North Texas which make it hard for you to see out, but easy for others to see in and watch you while you change.

Dallas resident Sharon Pennell frequently shops at Galleria Dallas. She agreed to let CBS 11 record her with hidden cameras while going into the dressing room at Saks Fifth Avenue.

"You can see right in, I can see right in the fitting room." These were the first words out of her mouth as she peered in through the slats on the dressing room doors.

Pennell was unaware that anyone could peer in as she took off her clothes in the dressing room until we pointed out what we could see right through the inward facing slats in the doors.

"They are all like that. It makes me not even want to look, either way, because I know I can see right inside," says Pennell as she walked down the hallway, trying not to look at any of the other dressing room doors.

And it's not just at Saks Fifth Avenue stores.

CBS 11 found similar dressing room doors at Sears stores in Irving and Arlington in fitting rooms for men, women and children.  Ann Taylor Loft stores in Dallas, Frisco and Lewisville had dressing rooms like it as well. And, the slats on the doors at Neiman Marcus at NorthPark Center and at Fort Worth's Ridgmar Mall make the doors nearly see-through.

Earlier this month, CBS 11 found the doors in some of the dressing rooms at the Macy's store in the Galleria, including in a handicapped fitting area. The CBS 11 report is part a nationwide investigation with our sister stations in Florida, New Jersey and California.

One shopper in Los Angeles, who only wanted to be identified as Laura said, "That's awful. That's awful… I don't really think they should have doors like these. It's not right."

The fitting room doors have slats that are angled down and into the room, making it possible for anyone to see inside when up close. But you the shopper can't see out, so you feel secure.

"This wasn't morally right," says a former Macy's employee. The man has 20-years experience in department store security. He does not want to reveal his identity, but on camera he says this is done intentionally to prevent shoplifting. He also says he believes it is wrong.

"I was shown the fitting room by another detective, who was a man. In the woman's department of the store the slats or louvers of the doors were not pointed down but they were pointed up where from the outside when the door is closed  you can see in, and pretty plainly see in."

The whistle blower says he was told dressing room doors were intentionally hung in such a way that allowed employees to monitor customers to prevent shoplifting.

"Merely to say 'we have an interest in preventing theft' isn't alone enough in my mind to say 'okay,' and therefore your privacy rights are just thrown out the window," says Peter Eliasberg with the American Civil Liberties Union. "To my mind, there's just areas where people shouldn't be watching you, where you should have control whether people watch you or not."

In Macy's at Galleria Dallas, we did see signs posted with the words "Fitting rooms are monitored by same-gender security personnel."

After the CBS nationwide investigation, a Macy's spokesperson says within the next few weeks, "All fitting room doors will have outward-facing slats that limit the visibility into the fitting room."

>>Click Here to read the full statement from Macy's<<

At the Galleria Macy's, we did find the doors changed this week. You could see holes in the tops of some fitting room doors showing where clothing hooks had likely been  removed and the door had been flipped upside down so that the slats faced the opposite direction. You could no longer see into any of the dressing rooms from the outside of the door.

"That's good for Macy's," said Ann Reed, a Macy's customer. "It's private. I don't want anyone watching me change clothes and a stranger"

Sears sent CBS 11 a statement partially saying, "...our facilities team will conduct an immediate inspection...and make the necessary repairs."

>>Click Here to read the full statement from Sears<<

But do not expect all stores to make the necessary changes.

Neiman Marcus said, "...being able to observe our dressing rooms is party of the security we provide our customers...and our observation is not based on any voyeuristic reasons."

>>Click Here to read the full statement from Neiman Marcus<<

A Saks Fifth Avenue representative told CBS 11, "It's against our policy to comment on our loss prevention policies."

You may remember, Saks policy got some attention back in 2002 when actress Winona Ryder was convicted of shoplifting. In highly publicized testimony, a security guard said he watched Ryder through dressing room door slats at a Saks store.

But still, the shoppers CBS 11 talked with are not sold on this policy. "I understand they need to not lose money but it's still an invasion of privacy," says shopper Valerie Gordilla.

"Someone can see me undressing, that's against the law everywhere else in the world, so why is it perfectly legal inside a department store?" Sharon Pennell asked as she hung up a shirt she was thinking about trying on and walked out of the dressing room.

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