Archive for the ‘privacy’ Category

I’ve been mulling over the question of ‘Privacy’ lately – sparked by a recent media row that caught my attention whereby a Canadian doctor who is a writer as well as a military man wrote an article for the American magazine “Mother Jones” [http://www.motherjones.com] entitled “Talk to me like my father; Front line medicine in Afghanistan“, about his recent tour of duty and the things he experienced while there. There would be nothing remarkable about that – and it was a well-written piece – if he had not described in graphic detail the heroic efforts made to save the life of a Canadian soldier who had apparently been shot accidentally by a tent-mate and died shortly thereafter. Again – nothing remarkable about that – in fact, some would say that it is laudatory that the author brought the harsh reality of life ‘outside the wire’ to the public consciousness. The fatal error on his part however, was that he actually identified the soldier in question by name – thereby , some would say – violating patient-doctor confidentiality, committing a gross invasion of the deceased soldier’s privacy, not to mention the privacy of his grieving family and also cast into question his own ethics both as a writer and a ‘war correspondent’.


So the dilemma is now – should the doctor in question be sanctioned or not – and by whom? The Canadian Military? The Medical Board of Canada? Should he be sued by the parents and family for invasion of privacy – breach of confidence – what have you? At the very least, should he be pilloried in the Press for his actions? The other side of the coin is that the doctor/writer was instrumental in recruiting civilian doctors to work with the troops in Afghanistan in the first place. He is also lauded by his literary colleagues and has won various prestigious prizes for his writings. Does that however give him the right to breach the [implied] confidence of his patients? Is a war correspondent exempt from the normal expectations of confidence and ethics? If I was a war correspondent in Iraq for example – do I have carte blanche to describe everything I see in graphic detail as well as identifying the protagonists on either side? The answer appears to be – it depends. When American soldier Jessica Lynch was captured during the Golf War at the Battle of Nasiriyah in 2003 her story spread like a brush fire through all the major newspapers around the world. She was not only identified by name [and in photographs] but her injuries – either real or imagined on the part of the reporters – were documented fully. The identity of the man who informed the Americans of her whereabouts was also fully disclosed with the result that he and his family were subsequently granted asylum in the States for fear of their lives.


You young things out there will no doubt have only ‘seen’ the Kennedy assassination through old videos on YouTube but I remember the day’s events fully. It was one of those ‘you remember where you were when’ moments, like the death of Diana or the death of the Big Bopper [gotcha there huh?]. The newsreels played the scenes over and over again – the crowd running, shaky camera angles as the reporters scrambled to get a shot, the indelible image of Jacky Kennedy climbing over the back seat to get at her dying husband, the blood on her otherwise immaculate pink suit as she stood by the president elect as he was urgently sworn in… Now I ask you – was this the grossest invasion of privacy or was it an historical moment and therefore above and beyond the normal mores of society? Because the central character was a Head of State were the newspapers absolutely duty bound to show us, the reading public, those images over and over again without cease for days on end? And what about the death of Diana? A British television documentary program has just aired several hours footage dealing with this very subject – a documentary that has outraged her sons and her family because it purportedly shows images of her dying moments while she was still in the car in the Paris tunnel. Has this so far exceeded the bounds of propriety that it should never have been shown?  Or is it just that we have the right to know everything when it comes to a head of state and/or a celebrity because this is part of the historical record, but the same does not apply in the case of  an ‘everyday’ citizen?  If this is is true then what about all the stuff plastered around the news about Jessica Lynch?  She was an ordinary citizen wasn’t she?  Or was she different because she was a soldier – or a female – or just a handy propaganda tool …


If we had had newspaper reporters and video cameras when Mary Queen of Scots or Anne Boleyn went to the block, or a few aristos in France met their maker would we have all sat around watching it live on News at 10 or reading about it in the ‘The Daily Distress’ instead of standing outside with the unruly scrum knitting and jeering? Has the world gone mad? Are we so insatiable for gore and voyeuristic detail that we take positive pleasure in the suffering of others – there’s that old Schadenfreude raising its ugly head again – or are we justly entitled to be well-informed of all the world’s events – ugly and distressing as they may be? And of course if some people are hurt along the way – such as the heart-broken and grieving family when their son’s death is raked over the coals once again – well that’s just too bad in the larger scheme of things. We the public have a right to know!


Comments on a post-card please.


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Private Lives

Do you ever get the feeling that someone’s watching you? You’re probably right. No it’s not just the nosy neighbours who want to know why you feel the need to go to the store seventeen times per day, it’s the Traffic Cam and the Bank Machine Cam, and the Toll Road Cam [easy to fool that one – just drive backwards up the highway – but then of course you’ll have your face on Police Cam not to mention ‘America’s Most Wanted’ and possibly TMZ]. We live in a surveillance society – some of us more than others. I read that in the UK there are more cameras than people and there are entire police forces devoted to searching through hours and hours of video tape searching for that terrorist face in the crowd or maybe that grannie trying to smuggle soap powder to her relatives in Lithuania, we can never be sure. Or just maybe that grannie has swallowed a condom full of some naughty substance and is now incarcerated in the special ‘holding room’ at the airport while the customs blokes scrutinize her every movement – pun intended.

So it seems that someone or some thing i.e. a camera, has our fizzogs on tape just about every minute of the day that we spend outside. Inside the cameras watch us through the Web instead. Big Brother would be proud and no doubt a member of FaceBook. Mind you I had to dismantle my own web cam – for one thing people out there in webland could not possibly be interested in watching me staring into space for hours on end apart from the mentally challenged – and speaking of the mentally challenged, I also got rid of the web cam because certain ‘photographers’ kept sending me live pictures – of things – usually very small things it must be said, but not things I would want on the screen when the kiddies walked in.

Many people feel discomforted that personal privacy is coming to an end – if it ever existed at all that is. History is full of allusions to people living in tribes which also meant sharing the old longhouse or the log hut or the cave because if you didn’t you were likely to wind up inside a hungry dinosaur’s tum [yes yes I know that MAN and dinosaurs didn’t exist at the same time – but you get the idea] having been naturally selected as it’s afternoon snack while you wandered – foolishly – alone around the plain looking at daisies. There was safety, not to mention warmth and security, in numbers. Privacy – in the sense of personal privacy that is – appears then to be a modern invention. Up to a few hundred years or so ago we all lived together for all the reasons I’ve mentioned above plus it was much easier to pay the rent if there were several of you bringing in the groats at the same time. People lived in extended families which included several generations from the very young to the very old and cantankerous – unless you were members of a certain native group that is, who chose to set old grannie and granddad afloat on an ice-flow for the polar bears to eat instead when they got too annoying and started drooling on the rug.

Living the communal life had many side-benefits. You always had someone around to babysit the kids for instance while you went out to join in the monthly sun dance, and more kids meant more hands to the plough, or the threshing thingy or the mill wheel – which had the added benefit of saving on donkeys, and hence freed up more grain for the oat-cakes, or the whiskey, whichever your preferred. Of course more whiskey also meant more kids so you see it was a sort of self-fulfilling cycle and everyone was happy – except grandma of course who had to babysit all those little nippers running around the cave floor and falling in the river. This may have been why certain children [usually females] were deemed to be surplus to requirements and were left out on the hillside as offerings to the Gods, or the hyenas, whoever got there first. [All together now: Awwww].

More privacy means less communal support. It also of course means that more money in the form of wage labor [I see all you Marxists out there sitting up and opening an eye] must be produced in order to support the family unit. And mum cannot be expected to work out in the fields all day while the kids run wild at home even though Social Services didn’t exist at the time and if they had would be too busy scooping up squalling babies off hillsides to attend to *your* lack of parenting skills. This means that dad had to get up off his duff, stop dozing in the sun while the women did all the work and go out and find a job! There was a price to be paid for privacy you see. Gone was the old way of life and it was in with the new – which meant a need for transportation, which meant a need for cars and buses and trains and planes and motorbikes – and roads and runways and bicycle paths. And of course dad couldn’t just turn up at the office in his loincloth now could he? So that meant a need for clothing stores and shoe shops and sweat shops and Nike.

So it seems then that the cost of personal privacy is the end of civilization as we know it – and it’s possibly responsible for global warming too.

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