Private Matters


As we have the right to learn the truth, we need accessibility to it in so far as we actually need to learn or to what extent we should be informed. Should journalists look into all kinds of information for the sake of freedom of information and public interest? What is the fine line between the freedom of information and information privacy?To what extent is information considered to be for public interest and private information?

The UK, a democratic society in which the freedom of information is considered as a fundamental right, has been shaken by this’‘privacy’’ issue with the burst of the phone hacking scandal. Although it is mentioned as the unethical behaviour of journalist, I believe the relativity of privacy underlies the core of the issue.

Everyone has their own definition of privacy. For some people, privacy is the personal information that they don’t want others to know about themselves, which doesn’t necessarily have to be a bad thing. Some defines like Jim Harper, the author of Understanding Privacy, does: ‘Subjective condition that people experience when they have power to control information about themselves and when they exercise that power consistent with their interests and values’’. On the other hand, it is defined as a condition simply being away from the public eye. Or as an extreme example which can be given from the Leveson Inquiry, Paul McMullan says, ‘’Privacy is the space bad people need to do bad things in. Privacy is for paedos; fundamentally nobody needs it’’.

Since there are so many approaches and ideas for the definition, it gets difficult to meet on a common ground, which leads to the inability to determine the area of privacy by laws. As long as there won’t be a mutual approach to it and rules that limit it, I believe the information privacy will be open to manipulation and  stay vulnerable. Let look at some examples.

The British royal family sued a French newspaper recently, over Kate Middleton’s topless pictures taken on a boat. In this case, we can say how unethical the reporters are, as they invaded a person’s private area, secretly took inconvenient photos on her own private property and published it without her permission. I believe, it might be the first reaction most people might give. But if we look from a different point of view, she was sailing in the sea in a public place. Since she’s a public figure, it should be acceptable that the media will try to take photos and write about her. As long as she is in a public place, in my opinion she should expect this kind of attention from the press. Despite the controversy, I do think it is unethical to take topless photos whether she is a public figure or not since nudity is a privacy. To sum up, privacy is a matter of location and it is hard to define where is private and public. Anyone can manipulate it for their own benefit or justify it from his/her own perspective.

Apart from Kate Middleton, if I take Mitt Romney being recorded by a hidden camera during a fundraising event, it  brings the expectation of privacy issue. Although the first thing that comes to mind is whether the recording by hidden camera is legal or not, it is more of a matter of the expectation of privacy which Romney had.  His supporters could have -or did- record by their smartphones and upload the ‘private’ meeting on youtube.  At this point, it again brings back meeting on a common ground for defining what is privacy. So what then is more valid; the expectation of privacy or the reality of the situation?

One further example is revealing sex tapes of celebrities. Whether or not it’s private, publishers have a strong incentive to release it. This is where the money gets tangled up in the whole issue. As long as the ethic is not considered, there will be more tapes on the internet in the future. The question I want to raise is; Should we listen the voice of the public and share it with the public for the sake of freedom of information, or keep it to ourselves for the sake of  information privacy?

Another discussion on Barney Frank the Democratic Congressman in Massachusetts 2011, his affairs with a male prostitute being outed by an escort. According to the story, Barney Frank paid someone for sex and allowed him to live in his home to help him to be rehabilitated. However it didn’t stop the man from working as a prostitute from Barney Frank’s home. Sooner, he found out about what the escort has been doing in his home and kicked the male prostitute out. Later the story was revealed by the escort and it was all over the news. At this point how should we react when a guy’s right to privacy is being threaten when the escort’s has also right to freedom of speech. If we stand on the escort’s side then does the escort’s freedom of speech outweigh the other guy’s right to privacy?

Overall, privacy is individual and personal more importantly it  is a subjective condition.  For this reason, it is illogical to decide for another person what his sense of privacy should be since it depends on his/her perspective.  Therefore, this leads to a conclusion which Jim Harper makes on this analysis on privacy: ‘’Government regulation in the name of privacy is based only on politicians’ and bureaucrats’ guesses about what ‘privacy’ should look like.’’ On the other hand, in reality, the concept of privacy will stay vague and vulnerable.

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