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Image: Britney Spears and paparazzi
Fred Prouser  /  Reuters file
Tracking her every move ... Britney Spears knows a thing or two about having her picture taken, no matter who is there to protect her, as evidenced during her 2007 Los Angeles court appearances.
msnbc.com contributor
updated 12/28/2009 8:46:42 AM ET 2009-12-28T13:46:42

Earlier this month, burglars hit the Los Angeles home of Nicky Hilton. When sister Paris heard about it, she posted this on Twitter:

“It’s unbelievable how my sister called the cops over an hour ago and they still haven’t shown up. Her house just got robbed, so messed up.”

Oddly enough, Twitter might have been an unwitting accomplice, if not in this particular heist, then possibly in others. It’s difficult to say for sure how thieves get their information before they locate a property, invade it and empty it.

But in recent months the Los Angeles Police Department broke up a ring of young crooks who allegedly targeted the abodes of such stars as Lindsay Lohan, Audrina Patridge, Orlando Bloom, Rachel Bilson and Paris Hilton and pilfered an estimated $3 million in jewelry and clothes. In the Internet age, the comings and goings of Hollywood celebrities are often as available as weather reports or sports scores.

And it isn’t just burglary that results from such electronic reservoirs of information. Stalkers can locate targets as well. Paparazzi can zero in on stars.

It all adds up to massive headaches for the folks in the security industry who are hired and entrusted to keep celebrities away from intruders.

“It’s because of the instant gratification factor,” said Bill Mancini, who has worked at the State Department and the White House and now runs his own security firm in Los Angeles. “People, including high-profile corporate heads, they like to Tweet to be closer to business contacts and fan bases. But they might Tweet about being at a restaurant or at Peet’s coffee and in a few minutes the paparazzi will be around.”

The obvious answer for celebrities who don’t want their whereabouts to be known, or don’t want the locations of their homes to be disclosed, is to not disclose such information on any device connected to the Internet. But it isn’t always that simple, said Mancini. Stars, especially those new to the business, are often encouraged to make and keep contact with fans by studios and advisors in order to promote themselves.

Video: ‘Burglar bunch’ targets Hollywood stars “We tell them that if they want to participate in those things, we recommend taking the time to think about what they’re putting on there,” Mancini said. “What location, the schools they’re taking their kids to. It’s pretty easy to get that stuff anyway. It doesn’t do them any good to make it readily available.

“But they get comfortable with it. They might be waiting for a plane, or sitting in a car, and have some time on their hands, and they don’t always slow down to think about what they’re putting out there.”

The security challenges fall loosely into two categories: information and protection.

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A security expert will do his best to make sure his client doesn’t provide too many clues as to whereabouts, or whether he or she will be out for the night.

“About 10 years ago I was called in to protect an on-air talent,” said Kieron Foley, a former Beverly Hills police officer who is now president and CEO of Estate Security Services. “She was being stalked by someone. She was used to being on air on a daily basis, and she would tell people where she was shopping. She’d say, ‘Like this beautiful dress? I bought it at blah blah blah.’

Video: Scoop on surrogate break-in plot “I came up with 10 things for her not to do or say on the air. One of them is not tell people where you’re shopping. You can say you had great pizza in Santa Barbara. But don’t say, ‘I had great pizza at Mulberry Street on Beverly Drive.’

“Now on Twitter, with celebrities or on-air talent, you don’t want to tell people what time you get off from work, or what Starbucks you stopped at.”

The protection side of the security equation is made more difficult if there is more information out there. Some of the information will get to paparazzi and fans, who in turn may create a nuisance. But some of it could get to more dangerous types, and that is where the level of security in place becomes a major issue.

“The reason celebrities have half the problems they have is because they hire people who aren’t properly trained,” said Joe LaSorsa, a former Secret Service agent who runs Florida-based J.A. LaSorsa & Associates, which provides security for VIPs, corporate executives and celebrities.

LaSorsa said most stars listen to the recommendations of their agents or managers or other personal advisors when hiring security personnel, and often those people know little about the business, and try to cut corners.

Video: LA chief rips paparazzi laws, Britney “At the end of the day it’s about money,” LaSorsa said. “Celebrities won’t pay more than $40, $50, $60 an hour. They get what they pay for: A 300-pound goon without training. It costs about $1 million, $2 million a year for security — for adequate protection. That’s not even the ultimate.”

Often a celebrity or VIP doesn’t realize that the security he or she has isn’t enough. “People think they know security, but they don’t,” Foley said. “I was with a CEO once, a huge A-list client, who lives in the (Pacific) Palisades. He told me, ‘I have the best security system.’ I asked who installed it. He told me. I said, ‘I could break into your home and you’ll never know it.’

“I went to his home and showed him five different points of entry that I could use that the alarm would never go off until I walked out the front door with all his jewelry.”

Paparazzi create a security risk as well. Many celebrities, including Britney Spears, Nicole Richie and Lohan, have been involved in car crashes as a result of being pursued by photographers, many of whom get their information about the whereabouts of stars instantaneously from Internet outlets.

Video: Paparazzi plague Pitt, Jolie's rickshaw

“When you start getting into a pack mentality with paparazzi, with photo agencies, there is no accountability,” Mancini said. “They aren’t required to have licenses or insurance (to work). There is no accountability trail. Some of them just wake up one day, buy a camera and decide to become a paparazzi. At that point sometimes it becomes hard.”

In the end, good information will triumph over bad, said Mancini. In other words, if a celebrity is well informed about precautions, he or she won’t provide information to people who might cause them trouble or harm.

“It (Internet) has made challenges much greater as far as maintaining safety and privacy,” he said. “It’s almost overwhelming, but there are ways to maintain privacy and that is by being cautious of what they put out there in e-mails and texts. It’s easy if the training is right.”

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