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.

WTF

This is a story you are not going to believe.

It concerns an 86 year old retired senior American corporate executive called James Prigoff.

Mr Prigoff is a with it sort of guy with impressive credentials. He was the former president of a division of Levi Strauss the jeans manufacturer and previously the senior vice president of the Sara Lee Corporation in Chicago. Mr Prigoff also happens to be a professional photographer. In fact, he has been a photographer for most of his life. His speciality is photographing murals, graffiti art, and other pieces of community public art. He’s also co-authored three books based on the many photographs he has taken, one of which, Spraycan Art, sold more than 200,000 copies. His photographs have appeared in many other publications and his photography has been exhibited at the Smithsonian Institute in Washington and in many other galleries. Mr Prigoff has also given lectures on photography and public art in museums, universities, and venues worldwide. He knows his stuff.

It’s a lifestyle he clearly loves but it’s one that got him into serious trouble.

Trouble that started when he attempted to photograph the “Rainbow Swash” outside Boston in 2004.

For those of you who may not know, the Rainbow Swash is an iconic piece of public art painted in 1971 on the circumference of a 140-foot or 45 metre high liquefied natural gas storage tank and repainted in 1992. It is actually one of the largest copyrighted pieces of art in the world. The original artist was Korita Kent.

Now how could doing that get Mr Prigoff into so much trouble you might ask?

Here’s how.

Mr Prigoff went to Dorchester, Massachusetts., to photograph the storage tank. But before he could take his photograph, he was confronted by two security guards who came through their gate and told him he couldn’t take pictures because the tank was on private property.

When he pointed out that he was taking his photographs in a public place well outside the fenced area, and was not on private property – they insisted he leave.

Mr Prigoff not wanting to cause offence or confrontation did what he was asked. That should have been the end of the matter.But it wasn’t.

A few months later, Mr Prigoff discovered a business card on the front door of his home in Sacramento from someone called Agent A. Ayaz of the Joint Terrorism Task Force, asking Mr Prigoff to call him.

In fact one of Mr Prigoff’s neighbours, an elderly woman, later told him that two men wearing suits had come to her door to ask her about her neighbour.

Armed with this information, James Prigoff did what most curious people might do if they found themselves in that situation.

He called Agent Ayaz.

What followed was a very strange conversation. Agent Ayaz asked Mr Prigoff if he had been in Boston recently. It was at that moment that it suddenly dawned on him why they might be asking those kinds of questions.

Mr Prigoff realized that the security guards at the Rainbow Swash site must have taken down the car license plate number of his rental and reported him to a law enforcement agency.

There could be no other possible explanation.Mr Prigoff never gave the security guards any information about himself, so clearly he must have been traced across country through his rental car record.

But why would they bother? Well the answer is frighteningly simple even if it makes no sense.

Even though James Prigoff might have been a professional photographer taking a photo of a well-known Boston landmark according to the Joint Terrorism Task force what he was doing was considered to be engaging in suspicious terrorist activity.

Mr Prigoff said : ” I lived through the McCarthy era, so I know how false accusations, surveillance, and keeping files on innocent people can destroy their careers and lives. I am deeply troubled that the Government may be recreating that same climate of false accusation and fear today.”

James Prigoff aged 86 says photography is an important part of his life, and what’s more he plans to keep photographing public art and public places – like he has been doing for the past 69 years.

He can’t understand why his legitimate artistic pursuits landed him on a national database potentially linking him to “terrorist” activities”

He says there is no reason for it. He is absolutely right about that.