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 wealthier and more famous that you are – the less privacy you have.
Stalking children, tailing car and mystery girlfriend
As evidence, these days online you can watch footage of actor Blake Lively’s frustration with trying to protect her children from paparazzi stalking them (YouTube 2021) or actor Ben Affleck and singer Jennifer Lopez having their privacy invaded (TMZ 2021, p.1) being questioned by a reporter in a car that pulls up next to them while they’re driving or read an online article about the singer John Mellencamp’s new mystery girlfriend (nine.com.au 2021).
Definition of celebrity
Celebrities in the 21st century attract a level of public interest that seems disproportionate to their achievements (Turner 2014, p. 3). Boorstin (cited in Turner p. 5) notes that celebrities fame is developed not by great achievements but rather by ensuring the persona they craft is unique from their competitors.
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 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 2017 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 and their children being stalked by paparazzi, mysterious girlfriends and house hunting? 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/>.
Blake Lively accuses paparazzi of stalking her kids, live streaming video, YouTube, retrieved 18 July 2021, <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bW26g1Wcjys>.
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.
J Lo & Ben PDA while she shops for a mansion in LA… scoping $65 mil Pad!!!, TMZ, retrieved 18 July 2021,<https://www.tmz.com/2021/07/15/ben-affleck-and-jennifer-lopez-go-mansion-shopping/>.
Kessler, J 2010, Fireworks, photograph, retrieved 13 August 2017, <https://www.flickr.com/photos/verpletterend/5393485546/>.
Natasha Barrett: What to know about John Mellencamp’s new girlfriend, nine.com.au, retrieved 19 July 2021, <https://celebrity.nine.com.au/latest/natasha-barrett-john-mellencamp-girlfriend-everything-to-know-explainer/b74b3cb8-ab16-48a7-99e6-966fecd1fede>.
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/>.
Turner, G 2016, Understanding celebrity, Sage Publications, London, <http://dx.doi.org/10.4135/9781473957855>.