The paradox of privacy
When I was nine years old for Christmas I was given a diary with a lock and a key. As a child that was my definition of privacy and being grown up – being able to lock your secrets away and having control over when and how much information you revealed. Today it appears that the paradox is the richer and more famous that you are – the less privacy you have.
Date nights, embarrassment and poor performances
As evidence, these days online you can read details and view photos of Beyonce and Jay Z’s date night (TMZ 2017, p. 1) or watch online footage of super model Bella Hadid’s fall down the stairs at a New York restaurant (TMZ 2017, p. 1). Or read about Kevin’s Spacey’s quasi apology to victims of his sexual misconduct and his declaration of his homosexuality (Chen 2017, p.1)
Definition of celebrity
The Oxford English Dictionary’s (OED) online (2017, p. 1). definition of ‘celebrity’ and its associated synonyms are very broad – see below.
Privacy rights of celebrities?
Is reporting about celebrities and their activities in real time, on social media sites, fair and reasonable? Is there a line that is crossed when celebrities are surveilled and their privacy invaded? Perhaps celebrities should not have the same rights to privacy that regular citizens have?
In a recent poll of classmates on Twitter (Shaw 2017) I asked: Do celebrities forfeit their right to privacy? Everyone who responded had an opinion.
Some may argue that celebrities are unique and forfeit their private citizen rights when they become a celebrity. They may reason that being a celebrity requires surveillance to create publicity – which is the bread and butter of their occupation. Further, they may note that celebrities are happy to be photographed and recorded for their own publicity purposes when it suits them. Yet, they are not so accommodating when they are not looking or feeling their best or are caught in a compromising position.
Are these arguments ethical?
A short overview of some of McFarland’s (2012, pp. 4-5). concerns about the ethics of privacy are outlined in the following YouTube video.
Are celebrities private citizens?
If celebrities are deemed to be private citizens how should their rights to privacy be protected? Gross (2017, p. 31). concludes that ‘The tension arises out of the juxtapositioning of a journalist’s right to freedom of expression and an individual’s expectation of privacy’. Determining responses to the privacy related questions that arise is a legal matter that is governed by privacy laws that vary widely from country to country.
In a recent Twitter poll of classmates, I asked who should determine the rights of celebrities? The results below may surprise you.
Australian law and privacy
In Australia, the law states that public figures do not forfeit their right to privacy. Campbell v MGN Ltd cited in the Australian Communications and Media Authority’s [ACMA] (2016) Privacy Guidelines for Broadcasters states:
Public figures such as politicians, celebrities, prominent sports and business people and those in public office do not forfeit their right to privacy in their personal lives. However, it is accepted that public figures will be open to a greater level of scrutiny of any matter that may affect the conduct of their public activities and duties. (ACMA 2016, p. 6).
Fascination with celebrities
Yet aside from various privacy laws, the broader question is why is the public interested in checking social media sites about celebrities date nights, divorces and weight issues? Maybe we are drawn to celebrities because we want to know every detail of their lives so that we can understand the phenomenon of celebrity – in the hope that some of their brilliance may rub off on us.
Australian Communications and Media Authority’s (ACMA) 2017, Privacy guidelines for broadcasters, ACMA, retrieved 6 August 2017, <http://acma.gov.au/theACMA/Library/Industry-library/Broadcasting/privacy-broadcasting/>.
Bella Hadid models how to fall 2017, live streaming video, TMZ, retrieved 5 August 2017, <http://www.tmz.com/2017/08/03/bella-hadid-falls-for-walking-boots/>.
Beyonce and Jay-Z sushi date night, live streaming video, TMZ, retrieved 5 August 2017, <http://www.tmz.com/videos/0_s3xdn6ms/>.
Chen, J 2017, ”Kevin Spacey sexual misconduct scandal: Everything we know so far’, retrieved 5 November 2017, <http://www.rollingstone.com/culture/news/kevin-spacey-scandal-everything-we-know-so-far-w511035/>.
Elston, 2005, Key, photograph, retrieved 13 August 2017,<https://www.flickr.com/photos/elston/7852296/>.
Eric ? Kimber, 2007, Limelight paparazzi, photograph, retrieved 6 August 2017, <https://www.flickr.com/photos/tkkate/2101695982/>.
Gross, B 2017, ‘Harvesting social media for journalistic purposes in the UK: The balance between privacy rights and freedom of expression’, in WJ Schünemann & MO Baumann (eds), Privacy, Data Protection and Cybersecurity in Europe, Springer International Publishing, pp. 31–42.
Kessler, J 2010, Fireworks, photograph, retrieved 13 August 2017, <https://www.flickr.com/photos/verpletterend/5393485546/>.
McFarland, M 2012, ‘Why we care about privacy’ retrieved 6 August 2017, < https://www.scu.edu/ethics/focus-areas/internet-ethics/resources/why-we-care-about-privacy/>.
Snowfield, S 2013, Paparazzi photographing celebrity, photograph, retrieved 6 August 2017, <https://www.flickr.com/photos/serena_snowfield/31991467741/>.