Is There A Right To Privacy?

This is an important topic because it affects everyone. I’m talking about the right to privacy. The way life as we know it is heading (maybe it’s already there and I haven’t noticed) you can’t call privacy a right anymore. It is a right that doesn’t exist in much the same way that the notion of privacy doesn’t exist. Neither ‘right’ nor’ privacy’ exist in the same sentence especially if you happen to be famous or well known. And that is very troubling.

Here’s an example of what I mean. A woman and her new partner, celebrities for want of a better word as a result of a television reality show, left a café hand in hand. It was Sunday morning and breakfast time.

Their behaviour was nothing out of the ordinary apart from the fact that up until recently both of them were in previous relationships that each of them ended, so the two of them could be together.

But no need for anyone to be judgmental. This kind of thing happens all the time so no big deal. But what happened next was a big deal.

Ten meters from where they were walking was a paparazzi, a photographer who makes his money from taking pictures of celebrities in unguarded moments like this. He was armed with a digital SLR camera and a zoom lens the size of a stretched limo and he was firing a succession of shots aimed at them.

Clearly this couple, a man and a woman, as far as the photographer was concerned, could not be said to be entitled to walk down the street, in quiet enjoyment on a Sunday morning. And that is the point.

Really, I suppose the question that should be asked is what did they expect?

If your face is on TV, on airport bookshelves, in newspapers and magazines, on billboards and the backs of buses then you must accept that you are fair game. You can’t assume or presume you have anywhere to hide.

Nor should you think you have a right to expect that you can or should.

But is that right? Of course it isn’t. But let’s face it. You don’t need to be a celebrity to end up having issues over privacy.

We live in a share-happy world. Many of us choose to play out our lives online, on smart phones, tablets and in social media. In order to get anywhere either socially or professionally we are told we must have multiple social media accounts that need to be maintained regularly. If search engines look hard enough they can uncover practically every detail about personal histories real or imagined. So is it any wonder that under those circumstances, the notion of privacy is completely redundant?

A more important question might be, do people really want privacy anymore? Because if they do they certainly have a funny way of showing it.

Look at the 21st century phenomena. Mirrored selfies uploaded to Instagram, badly considered tweets that come back to haunt us, smartphone applications that can access our information such as name, age, gender, user ID, shopping preferences, list of friends. We give companies vital information to target us with very specific advertisements. Even photographs of where we live can be found online, there for all the world to see.

It’s certainly there for criminals to see as well. How much easier have we made it for them to plot entry and exit points so they can break in to our homes and steal our property? Think Google Maps streetview.

All of us are exposed. It’s happening every day of our lives. What used to be done in private is now public. Voluntary or involuntary. It doesn’t seem to matter.

But that development also comes with some disturbing consequences.

The recent hacking of very private photos of a number of Hollywood actors is a salient reminder of how much privacy we can no longer take for granted. We have handed over powerful tools to those who might want to do us harm.

The sad death of a twenty-one-year-old Queensland woman is a classic example of what I am talking about. She was bombarded with a barrage of abusive text messages from an estranged boyfriend in the weeks before she took her own life. The magistrate who sentenced her boyfriend to two months jail said the hundreds of text messages amounted to a campaign of “gratuitous harassment” that constituted domestic violence.

Experts say smartphones give abusive partners sophisticated new ways to track, harass and control. And that presents a major challenge to domestic violence campaigners.

According to a Domestic Violence Resource Centre in Victoria a survey they did from last year, showed that more than 80 per cent of domestic violence workers reported that smartphones and social media were being used to stalk victims.

Meanwhile, Women’s Legal Services NSW report that smartphones were a factor in about 80 per cent of  cases involving family law, domestic violence and sexual assault.

Libby Davies, the chief executive officer of antiviolence campaign White Ribbon, said harassment via text was “absolutely” on the rise in Australia and there was a growing prevalence of men using tracking apps and spyware on their partners’ phones to “infringe their freedoms.”

She said controlling partners loaded these apps on to their partners’ phones without their knowledge so they could track their movements and know immediately where they were at any point in the day.

Other apps were being used to remotely monitor their partners’ texts, phone calls, emails and web browsing history.

Women’s Services Network chairwoman Julie Oberin told a Senate inquiry earlier this month that she noticed technology was making the response to domestic violence more difficult.

She said women who were placed in safe houses in regional Victoria were later discovered by their former partners through a smartphone global positioning system (GPS).

The Women’s Services Network also relayed an example of how a woman was sent videos of herself in her lounge room by a former partner who had hacked into her smart TV.

Online youth mental health service provider ReachOut.com reports that one in five young people have been the victim of bullying and harassment from text messages.

A spokesperson said  If you ” look at this statistic alongside partner violence statistics, it paints a very concerning picture, especially for people under 25.”

There is no way that  these developments could be said to be positive or desirable.

In fact the opposite is the case.

We are making it easier for people to do us harm. Nothing smartphone about that.

Sometimes I Don’t Understand Our Legal System

Sometimes the legal system needs to metaphorically hang its head in shame. It will make decisions based on some bizarre notion of political correctness instead of exercising plain common sense. Instead of upholding free speech, as you might expect in a healthy democracy, the legal system subjects it to a full blooded, frontal assault.

A well known British performing artist has been forced by a court to shelve plans for a book detailing his own childhood sexual abuse after (get this) his ex-wife was granted an injunction because their young son might read what he wrote.

Quite separate from the issue of the book banning, this case has already been the subject of some of the most intense and blanket suppression orders I have ever come across in 30 years of journalism. It makes a mockery of the notion of open British justice.

The performing artist can’t be named. The performance art that he is known for can’t be identified. His book publishers can’t be named. The ex-wife can’t be named or identified nor can their son. The exact age of their son can’t be released other than to say: “he is approaching teenage years.”

The ex-wife moved away from the United Kingdom after the couple, were divorced in 2009. But the country she moved to can’t be identified other than to describe it as a place called “ Ruritania.” Why they decided to call it that is anyone’s guess. Maybe the learned judges read too many Harry Potter books.

Seriously, this is Noddyland. The performing artist claimed he had a couple of compelling reasons for wanting to write the book. Firstly, to help him come to terms with a particularly dark and traumatic period in his life and secondly, to encourage other victims, who might have endured similar abuse, to come forward and tell their story.

In successfully applying for the temporary injunction, the man’s ex-wife relied on a legal case dating back to 1897. It involved a man who played a practical joke on an East London pub lady but was found guilty of the “intentional infliction of mental distress.”

The legal action was launched after a copy of the manuscript was leaked to the ex-wife. She said she was acting on behalf of their son who has Asperger’s syndrome, a form of autism, as well as attention deficit disorder and a number of other health problems. She claimed that publication of the book would be a misuse of private information and what her husband was doing amounted to negligence. She also argued that both she, and her former husband, had agreed to a court order at the time of their divorce to prevent their son from learning about the past lives of both parents which could have a detrimental effect on the boy’s wellbeing.

However, the court rejected any suggestion of negligence on the husband’s part. It said parents could not be liable for damages that might arise from parental decisions, made everyday, that might impact on their children. Similarly the court rejected the ex-wife’s claim that the manuscript was a misuse of private information. The book was about the performing artist not his son.

But even though it rejected these legal arguments, the court still found it was necessary to grant a temporary injunction.

In granting the injunction, the court said the performing artist’s book was semi-autobiographical. He was highly successful in his chosen career, despite a tormented childhood. He had endured sexual abuse at school over a number of years, which caused him to suffer physical effects as well as mental illness. He also got a thrill out of self-harm. But through his art he had discovered a means by which he could cope with the trauma of the past. In the manuscript, which the court read, the performing artist was described as having written with clarity and purpose offering some new perspectives on his life and career. But despite this, the court ruled no-one should be allowed to read it.

The court said while it accepted there was a public interest in the book being published, it decided to grant the injunction so that a trial could take place at a later time on the over-riding issue of whether the son’s rights should have precedence over the rights of the father.

Needless to say this case has sounded alarm bells for advocates of free speech. They claim it could establish a very dangerous precedent, which many book publishers say is deeply disturbing because it could undermine the rights of other authors.

A British group that lobbies to defend the rights of writers says the court’s decision paves the way for the injunction of memoirs of any work of non-fiction that may expose or investigate the past. The case allows an aggrieved party to cite the distress of a relative or friend as grounds for censorship.

Another group, Index on Censorship warned that this case represented yet more erosion of the boundaries of freedom of expression.

The performing artist says his right to free speech and the written word is particularly acute and should be respected because of what he went through. I, for one, wholeheartedly agree with him.