When alumnus Nicholas Rotundo’s friends heard he had been charged for cyber-stalking and intrusion, they were shocked and couldn’t believe the news.
During his time at UTD, Rotundo was involved with several student organizations, including Student Government, Mu Epsilon Kappa and the Student Union Activities Advisory Board.
His friends described him as a computer savvy, moral and an upstanding individual. He was talented enough to land a job at Google after graduating.
So when the FBI contacted one of Rotundo’s acquaintances, a former UTD student, claiming the agents had found photos of her in Rotundo’s possession, she said she was surprised.
“That kind of stuff happens to people, but the difference is that this was someone that I knew,” said the woman, who chose to remain anonymous.
Bill Mikesell, a UTD alumnus, has been friends with Rotundo since 2011 and helped Rotundo and his girlfriend move to California last year.
He was shaken up by the news and said it came out of the blue because Rotundo was the last person any of his friends would suspect for such a transgression.
“I was reading the comments on one of the Reddit threads and someone had said ‘He was MIS’ golden child.’ And he was,” Mikesell said. “You fully expected him to be a CEO of something. This was not something that I would have expected from him.”
Mikesell said Rotundo seemed to be in a healthy relationship. The last time they had spoken in May, nothing had seemed amiss.
When he heard of the allegations against Rotundo, there was a sense of disappointment and betrayal, Mikesell said.
“I was saying to somebody else that at one point, this is a guy I would set my moral compass towards,” he said.
Raj Dwivedi, who was SG president at the time Rotundo served on the senate, said Rotundo was one of the active members.
“He always struck me as someone fairly genuine, fairly hardworking,” Dwivedi said. “He was always a reliable member of senate.”
Rotundo worked alongside Michelle Abuda, a graduate student in the Jindal School of Management, on an MIS case-study competition.
Abuda spent 48 hours with Rotundo and another teammate in a hotel room in Minneapolis working on the case, and she never felt uncomfortable with him, she said.
“What I know (about) him and what I read are two totally separate things, so I don’t know what to think anymore,” Abuda said.
For the suspected victim, despite having to come to terms with the reported violation of her privacy, the healing process has begun for her as she finds support from close friends and family, she said.
However, since several news outlets including The Daily Mail and The New York Times reported the story, several readers, in their comments, have blamed the victims for being careless.
Reading the comments that readers on these news sites have posted has been a traumatic experience for her, the victim said.
“But what the news isn’t telling us is that the situation wasn’t your typical run-of-the-mill scam,” she said. “The way that they were perpetrated was so elusive that most people would have been taken advantage of.”
Denying others access to personal laptops and not sharing photos on the public domain is a short term solution, the victim said. In the long term, society has to collectively abstain from invading privacy, she said.
“This issue is so much greater than one single cyber-stalking case because if we no longer value and acknowledge each other’s personal autonomy, then we reduce ourselves to the lowest, most uncivilized, most undignified society,” she said. “We have to start holding ourselves and others to higher standards than that.”
Technology has aided this diminishing sense of privacy, the victim said. However, privacy is a matter of choice, and that is a right that consumers should respect even when perpetrators don’t, she said.
Meanwhile, others who might have been violated in connection to this case should not fear speaking up, the victim said.
“They would fear that people would look down upon them for being so naïve, but there’s a difference between being naïve and living with the viewpoint that people are good people and I never think that’s something to be ashamed of,” she said.