When I read this post I could not help remembering the discussions within the Privacy module of the post grad learning programme I have recently enrolled in. A particular issue discussed was precisely the legitimate expectation of privacy regarding events which take place in public, such as those analysed in the Peck, Campbell or Von Hannover cases.
In the situation at stake, two office colleagues had sex in the workplace premises, with the lights on, having forgotten to pull the blinds down… and therefore in full view of transients and the customers of the pub located right across the street, who were able to observe the full scene, unnoticed from the inside.
The events were recorded by many (how useful are Smartphones in these situations!) and uploaded to the Internet. Obviously, it did not take long to spread both on social media and on the press and very quickly the couple has inadvertently become a viral sensation. Their sexual performance has been broadly gossiped, commented, assessed and rated. They have been publicly identified since then and details regarding their personal lives have been exposed.
Putting aside other pertinent considerations in regards of what internal proceedings the company should take, I would like to focus on the privacy issues at stake.
Our expectation of privacy does not forcefully depends of the place where the events take place. It is not because something happens in a public space or is visible by the public or from a public place that any reasonable expectation of privacy is automatically excluded. It suffices to think that most of our private life, such as conversations or encounters, actually happens in public. How unfortunate would it be if that mere fact would ultimately deprive us of any expectation of living our lives discreetly. It would not be remotely reasonable to accept that people abdicate of their privacy expectations once they leave their homes. Specially when considering all the buzz surrounding smart TVs, our privacy is at risk even in our own households.
In this particular case, it was late in the evening and the couple expected to be alone in the office and away from peering eyes. It is unquestionbly a quite different situation than that of having sex in broad day light in a busy street, which would be more appropriately qualified as exhibicionism.
Moreover, the revealing and intimate nature of the activity cannot be ignored, considering that they were undressed and, well, having sex. I would say with some certainty that it is not something that most of us do not mind to be watched, recorded and commented, over and over, on a large-scale. And, in spite of being something that the public finds interesting, there is certainly not any public interest at stake.
Furthermore, despite acting on plain sight, the couple was absolutely unaware that their activities were being observed, let alone filmed. They did not give their consent – nor explicitly, nor implicitly – for their image to be captured. But, more relevant, they were certainly oblivious that those images and recordings would be disseminated at a large-scale. To be put within the public eye and the public attention which ensued were neither expected nor desired.
The moral damages at stake are evident. On a personal level, the couple has been publicly exposed, scorned, humiliated and shamed. Their dignity and self-esteem have been incessantly injured. At least for one of them, being married and with children, this exposure has also far more reaching consequences, affecting the family members concerned.
To say that the lesson to be learnt from this is to turn the lights off next time you intend to have sex is the easiest joke to make. However, such situations should not be socially treated so light-heartedly. Namely because with the advanced technologies available, it is getting easier to photograph and record events humiliating for someone. That is how many of the known cyber bullying situations actually start. Technologies are evolving so fast that the general awareness and sensitivity are having a hard time keeping track of the issues at stake.
Perahps a very good first step would be for people to start accepting that it is not because they can see something, and are able to easily record it and quickly share it online, that it is legitimate to do so.It is so easy to laugh at someone’s expenses. And the next big joke could be any of us.