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The death of privacy

Published:Wednesday | May 28, 2014 | 12:00 AM

By George Davis

W
hen is a conversation private? And when is it acceptable to publish or broadcast private remarks made about a topic or concerning a public official or private citizen? Is this ever acceptable under any circumstance? These questions are relevant given that we live in a time when any and everything people do, in whatever space, is fair game for the analysis and commentary of other persons not in the room at the time when the subject of later forensic examination was played out. Forget all they say about Las Vegas. The fact is that what happens behind closed doors no longer stays there. The advent of modern technology with smartwatches and -phones that can be concealed in a person's pocket yet record crystal-clear sounds within a room makes life easy for those with evil intent who want to tape remarks not intended for public consumption.

As a journalist, I and others in the vocation can get in serious poop for giving a frank assessment to friends at a bar about Andrew Holness' performance as opposition leader, or Portia Simpson Miller's abilities as prime minister. This, as it is highly likely that both leaders can hear exactly what has been said about them in private.

PRIVATE COMMENTS

All it needs is for one of those in the company, aggrieved for whatever reason, to record said conversation for playback to one of the leaders. That individual can do worse and wait until the journalist uses their platform of radio to discuss professionally and dispassionately the per-formance of both party leaders. That could be the ideal time for said individual to post those private comments to YouTube, juxtaposed by those public remarks, to advance the argument that the journalist is both a hypocrite and a bigoted person.

Given the way the world is and the size of the army of outrage police, almost no one will defend the journalist on the grounds that their private comments should be disregarded as they were not meant for broadcast. Neither will anyone say that said journalist has a right to their private views despite their work as a public commentator. In that way, the journalist stands to be ruined and the career they've worked hard on building will have to be abandoned and replaced with a job raising chickens and hogs on a piece of family land in Bog Walk, St Catherine.

If you think I am imagining ghosts, then look at what happened to then British Prime Minister Gordon Brown in April 2010, over remarks made in the privacy of his motor vehicle, but unfortunately into a lapel microphone that was still connected. Recall the recent comments of the old goat, Donald Sterling of the LA Clippers, about black people and their relationship with his basketball team. Recall that recent elevator video of Jay Z being pummelled by his sister-in-law, with his wife standing looking beautiful as usual but doing nothing to defuse the situation.

LIVING IN DANGEROUS TIMES

With phone applications allowing you to record a conversation without the knowledge of the other party, the way is clearer for persons to use your private comments against you in the future. And whereas Jamaica's Charter of Fundamental Rights and Freedoms proclaims that the State must respect and protect a citizen's right to private and family life, privacy of the home, along with the right to enjoy privacy of other property and communication, I feel no less insecure.

We are living in dangerous times. And while it may not be macho to admit, although I am macho by design, I am afraid. Everything people do, whether those people be celebrities, politicians or self-important ninnies high off the scent of their own flatulence, is likely to be recorded and splashed throughout that vast, cavernous area known as cyberspace. This is the period which future historians will note in the big book as the moment in human history when privacy ended. I do not like it. The word privacy, which originally meant 'a state of freedom from intrusion', was born in 1814. Its gravestone will say it died in the 2000s, around the time of the explosion in ownership of smart gadgets along with greater access to the Internet. Selah.

George Davis is a journalist. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com