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Does owning a smartphone overrule your right to privacy?

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The question of the moment seems to be that given the level of – shall we call it inquisitiveness – and the public's access to technology, does the public have the right to go where it pleases, use its technology as it pleases and get folks into trouble?

Not for us or you to judge

It's not for us to judge here whether someone is right or wrong in an incident, that is for the courts or an administrative procedure or whatever gives the person a chance to speak on his or her own behalf before a tribunal. That is a right granted by the Constitution that so many seek to violate so blatantly, as long as the person doing the violation “is not involved.”

The incident that brings this question to mind happened a couple of days ago in a state office building in Massachusetts. It seems that someone with a camera phone looked into an office and saw a person asleep at his desk; shot a photo of the matter, and then emailed it to the “proper authorities," as reported by Boston's CBS-TV outlet WBZ and others.

Of course, the standard press, in its obvious rush to get to the screen first with the story, seems to have forgotten one of the cardinal rules of conduct: “A person shall be considered innocent unless convicted by a jury of his peers.” Or, in this case, ad administrative procedure, quite possibly?

No, the judge, jury and, apparently, hangman, in this case was the perpetrator with the silent camera at on the cellphone. In this case, the photographer was giving the public “its right to know.”

"Right to know?"

But, what does the public need to know? What if, for the sake of argument, the person in the office had his or her head down on the desk because he or she was feeling unwell? Does that constitute abuse or is it just a person who isn't feeling well? Does that mean that if one feels poorly at work that one has to leave the office – or close a blind – until he or she feels better?

And, what if the “offender” in the photo had just pulled a double-shift and was taking an hour breather on the desk while he or she recharged? Doesn't a 16-hour shift warrant a little time off from an employer whether public or private?

In our technology-obsessed society, it looks as if you are now guilty until you are proven innocent and what better way to prove guilt than to take a photo and forward it namelessly to a supervisor or department head? What if the tables were reversed the the techno-photographer was caught cat-napping after an all-nighter of crunching numbers for the firm? Does a picture of him or her on his desk or couch constitute immediate guilt and provide cause for whatever may follow?

Apparently, today the technogods demand their vengeance be swift and thorough as pictures don't lie?

Yet, we seem to remember staged photos that used to appear on TV all the time where folks were air-brushed out or where a left-hander became a right-hander. Is that in the same league?

Apparently not as our neighbors, friends, children and who knows whomever else, believe they have the right to stick their cameras wherever they choose and snap whatever they choose, whenever they choose to!

Line crossed

There is a right to privacy that we seem to have lost, or perhaps a boundary has just been crossed as technology companies, in their obsession to be the first to market with the latest and greatest, smallest and sharpest smartphone, camera, bathtub, teacup and 3D whatever else they produce now seem to be the ones calling the tune. Our rights to privacy; our rights to security from illegal search and seizure (an illicit photograph of a worker certainly constitutes that, one would think) are now circumspect. They must yield to the greater good and that greater good is spelled Panasonic or Sanyo and have the name smartphone in their labels. That greater good says that anyone so equipped can go forth and use up all the memory in a device 32 GB or 64 GB photographing what they may consider wrongful behavior and then just forwarding it to the “right authorities” for handling.

There was once a time when, if you were not directly involved in a story or photo, you had some expectation of privacy and the photographer was required to gain your assent through a release (and usually a token payment) for the use of your image.

Well, with Android 4.0 Smartphones now capable of handling huge amounts of memory and with a public's and Internet's insatiable “right to know,” it seems as if the simple expedient of asking a question or two or the victim of a photographic outrage is no longer in vogue. It's shoot-first-and-ask-questions (not) later.

This is quite a Gordian knot that will be facing not only civil libertarians, the courts and legislators for years to come.

Quite a question to unravel

All we know is that if someone were to take our photo as we napped in our car waiting for our family to come out of a shopping trip – being disabled and under medication we can't drive so our families do it for us – and we happened to wake up during this invasion of our privacy, the first ones to know about it would be the local law enforcement agencies as this could be considered an assault in public, especially if the idiot behind the lens “forgot” to get a release first. Now, wouldn't that be something?

And, to the state worker who was “caught” napping at his desk yesterday, did anyone bother asking whether he or she might not have been feeling ill or whether it was the person's lunch hour and he wanted a little extra nap time? Obviously, the answer is a long, loud resounding no. The reaction of the prosecution (oops management) in this case is classic: they are investigating this incident.

If someone deserves investigation it's the person who illegally used a person's image without signed assent. Now wouldn't that be something if someone actually prosecuted a yo-yo with a smartphone and high-resolution lens and the “photographer” lost? It would certainly be a first and it would also be very fitting.

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