Sunday Lifestyle

Technology and privacy

MANO-A-MANO - Adel Tamano -

The now-infamous brawl between the Santiago spouses and journalist Mon Tulfo has highlighted the fact that, in the era of cell-phone cameras and the Internet, the notion of what is private and otherwise has changed radically. With a click of a button, as the video was posted on YouTube, the images of the altercation at the NAIA Airport were available for all and sundry to view, over and over again. Where a couple of years ago, such an event might have merited some media attention because of the celebrity status of the participants, with the advent of modern technology, people have instantaneous access to the event. And the graphic nature of the video, the violence depicted in the footage, only serve to increase the interest of those viewing.

As a student of the law, I’ve always found the right to privacy fascinating, particularly given the fact that in US law, the American Constitution has no express mention of a right to privacy. Very much unlike our Philippine Constitution, which although patterned on US constitutional precepts, contains an explicit provision on a citizen’s right to privacy under Secs. 2 and 3 of Art. III. The underlying idea of the privacy right was the right of a person “to be left alone;” However, given the obtrusive nature of the cell-phone cameras, the Internet, and even Facebook and social networking sites, it seems that we’ve lost that space — and I’ll call it part of the democratic space — to be left alone.

Simply, one important lesson from the incident is that the old notions of privacy are gone. Where, once upon a time, celebrities — and much more so those not in the public eye — felt some dichotomy between their private and public personas, now everything is pretty much fair game. Yes, even public persons have privacy rights, as shown by US and Philippine jurisprudence, but these rights are much more limited as compared to non-public figures. This isn’t an issue of the paparazzi, meaning the professional photogs who stalk celebrities (which is pretty much a foreign and unique phenomena not wholly applicable to the Philippines) but rather of the danger that one’s actions, good or ill, may be caught on camera given the fact that almost every cell-phone is equipped with photo or video capabilities.

In a way, the danger that one may be exposed may be a good thing since it’ll remind celebrities and non-celebrities alike to be on their best behavior, lest their tongue-lashing of — as alleged as a matter in the Santiago-Tulfo altercation — of the ground crew of an airline company might be caught on video. So, on the bright side, the loss of privacy should remind all of us to be on our best behavior.

Perhaps given the increasingly secular way in which we view our world, this fear of being caught on video can re-teach us to act with more circumspection. In the past, our more religious ancestors stayed away from acts that were deemed immoral or “sinful” because they knew that God’s vision was upon them. That in itself served as a powerful social control and limited their bad behavior. But in the postmodern world, this fear of God might be insufficient to counter some people’s desire to do wrong. But a fear of getting caught on camera — and facing the ridicule or ire of those millions of pairs of eyes on the Internet — might serve to curb a person’s tendency or desire to commit wrong.

And the ether of the Internet, the wild, wild west of the worldwide web, is a most unforgiving place. Meaning that once a photo or video is placed there, it takes on a life of its own. Essentially, stuff you post on the Internet is there for posterity. Like the aforesaid brawl, in the past, you might just have a few news reports on the matter — or even extended reporting because of the nature of the incident and the participants being public figures — but there would be an end to it after the news cycle had turned. But with the Internet, and the posting of the video, the brawl will be there seemingly forever. Sadly, the children of the participants of the brawl — and their children’s children — will be able to access it. As an aside, it is a cause for worry how some people, after viewing the video and watching the subsequent reports, took great delight in the humiliation and name-calling of the persons involved, instead of feeling pity and compassion in seeing persons put in the most negative of lights. Since I don’t know all the facts of what truly happened in this case, I don’t want to judge any of the parties involved. That said, I am of the firm belief that violence is never a proper way to resolve our problems and conflicts.

And that truly is the lesson: this new technological environment is a challenge to all of us, private and public figures alike, to act with dignity and decorum. Yes, no one is perfect and we will all make mistakes but perhaps with the knowledge that these mistakes may be posted for eternity on the Internet, then we might all become a little bit more cautious in how we deport ourselves and how we treat our fellow man.











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