Posted tagged ‘voyeurism’

Privacy vs. Freedom of Expression

April 6, 2010

There is an on-going battle happening in America that is as quiet as a cat but as vicious as a pit bull.

This battle is a relatively new one, exacerbated by the popularity of the World Wide Web.

This is a battle that is being fought on all possible fronts: the White House, the Pentagon, the offices of the Central Intelligence Agency, the chambers of Congress, schools, street corners, public libraries, and even private homes.

This is a battle between personal privacy and freedom of expression.

But first, here are a few thoughts to help set the stage for this discussion:

We live in an unprecedented age of information. The social observers of the 1990s famously referred to the Internet as the “Information Superhighway” because of the vast amount of information that is available at the mere click of a mouse.

Today that highway has grown to stretch across the globe; surpassing all national, linguistic, and cultural boundaries. This information comes in all forms: news, politics, opinions, history, art, pop culture, personal stories, etc. The popularity of blogs created in itself a fairly new phenomenon where more people are willing to put their personal lives out for everyone to read.

And this is where things get very interesting. More and more people, some as young as middle school students, are willing to put their private lives on the Internet for all to see. Through written blogs or video blogs posted on Youtube, people share private information about their lives, including their love life, sex life, opinions on politics, office/schoolyard gossip, opinions on pop culture, and anything else that will attract a loyal following.

Internet pseudo-celebrities will post daily (or weekly) videos of them chatting to their “fan base” about whatever comes to their mind. Certain people will tune in because of the voyeuristic pleasure they get from peeking into the seedy lives of “ordinary” people.

I say “ordinary” people because one never knows how real these “confessions” are. Then again, is that really the point?

The rise of social networking sites such as Facebook, Twitter, and MySpace has given people more channels to advertise themselves. Our world is becoming more interconnected. All this leads to one conclusion: our “private” lives are entering into the public domain like never before.

At the same time, consider the controversy that sprung up in the wake of the domestic surveillance scandal of 2005. It was revealed to the American people that the infamous Patriot Act of 2001 had given the FBI the right to spy on foreigners and U.S. civilians without a judge’s permission. Eliminating the need for a federal subpoena, as argued by dissidents, destroys our constitutional right to “due process.”

Many Democrats and civil liberties advocates argued such a practice violated American’s rights to privacy. President Bush argued such measures were necessary to protect Americans from future terrorist attacks. Terrorists do not respect individual rights, Bush and his supporters said.

The outrage from “Spygate” proves that Americans are not completely willing to sacrifice their personal privacy for the sake of protecting themselves from potential harm. Other similar controversies include the installation of video cameras on street corners, photo-enforced red light traffic cameras, and unwarranted phone tapping.

Yet, there exists a completely different trend in American society. As mentioned earlier, Americans are becoming more comfortable with spilling their deepest, darkest secrets on the Internet. Even if they maintain a certain degree of anonymity, there always exists the possibility that someone will find out who they are.

Voyeurism is the sexual interest of spying on people engaged in intimate behaviors that is normally relegated to the private sphere. Alfred Hitchcock’s breakthrough 1954 film “Rear Window” famously depicted Jimmy Stewart as a crippled man who spends his free time spying on his next door neighbors. When his character witnesses a potential murder, he becomes involved in a dangerous conspiracy that never would have happened had he kept his peering eyes away from other people’s business.

“Rear Window” argues how dangerous it is to step into the lives of private people without their permission. There is nothing inherently illegal about spying on people (other than the creepiness factor), but when watching leads to taking action, a line has been crossed that leads to very unholy territory.

This unholy territory is “stalking,” the practice of giving unwanted attention to individuals by either physically following them, researching intimate details of their lives, or trying to contact them without their permission.

There is a joke among Facebook users that when somebody finds out intimate details about someone by reading information posted on their profile, they are referred to as a “Facebook stalker.” The irony is, of course, that all this information is willingly posted on the profile by the person. This information is available for all eyes to see, especially the eyes of your “friends.”

But sometimes this is no laughing matter. Recently, a Tacoma teacher named Jennifer Paulson was murdered by a stalker who casually knew her in college. Her death signifies how serious stalking can be; that intruding on someone’s privacy can possibly lead to violence.

Naturally, there is no way to monitor this except though self-control and utilizing common sense. The government cannot control what information people are willing to put out there. And likewise, people are limited in what they can do to stop government intrusion on their personal lives.

This is an issue that should be “discussed” more than “debated.” Why are we willing as a society to spill more secrets about our personal lives while at the same time getting outraged whenever we see the federal government intrude on our personal space? Are we becoming more open about our privacy, or are we really becoming more protective of it?

Discuss!