Phones have become an extension of ourselves and of how we experience the world. Within this extension is our sense of private and public spaces; mobile phones have effectively enabled the merging of the two. You could be on a bus or at a park whilst watching a video, scrolling through social media or capturing and uploading things you witness in your surrounding public space.
Capturing photos or videos from your surrounding environment and posting them online seems to be part of this new paradigm of merged public and private spaces; I, for one, am constantly seeing images and videos online that are observations of people. So it’s clear that this merge is a paradigm, but could this paradigm be infringing on our rights to privacy?
Australian law, as it turns out, doesn’t consider this paradigm to be an infringement of privacy. We are lawfully allowed to produce and share content from a public space and use it for non-commercial purposes. However, determining what a ‘public space’ is, is where it gets tricky. For example, while you can take a photo of a person at any location in Australia, you are required (in most states) to ask permission before taking said photo at a railway station. While you are able to take a photo of a private backyard from a public standpoint, you are not allowed to take photos of government property, such as defence bases. This discovery made me wonder, do we need further regulation on these laws?
I then considered an important aspect that has come from this paradigm – citizen journalism. Last year I was in Turkey when the first uprisings began in Istanbul. I was in Sultanahmet on the 26th of May 2013, two days before the uprisings erupted in Taksim Square, when my friend and I noticed a group of buses filled with heavily armed police about to depart. The organisation of police looked very sinister and our initial reaction was to follow the buses. Without hesitation I started filming and taking photos of the event as I instinctively felt it was important to share. Unfortunately, I relied on my hostel’s wifi to upload the footage, which failed to upload, so I let it be. After news broke out about the protests at Taksim Square, I regretted not persisting to upload what I had captured. I have decided to sample some of what I witnessed in this post.
While I failed to upload the footage, I realised how important it is to act as a citizen journalist and share what I witness. I did not seek the permission of the people involved, but it did not seem necessary as I was attempting to share their story and give the protestors a voice. Footage is constantly being uploaded to social media showing revolutions, acts of violence and prejudiced rants. I cannot imagine permission was granted before these videos were uploaded, but these videos are valuable. They are able to highlight prejudices and promote discussion in a way that works towards reducing prejudiced thinking.
Recently, a Minneapolis woman who goes by ‘Lindsey’, decided to start filming men who catcalled her on the street. Her intention was to understand why they thought it was acceptable behaviour and then challenge their views. She uploaded her videos to youtube and shared her personal project with Buzzfeed, causing it to go viral.The faces of the harassers were blurred out, however Lindsey did not ask their permission before filming and uploading. Lindsey argued that this was not a situation that required permission, stating,”the filming provides them a platform to embarrass themselves in a way that they’ve already embarrassed me.” (Lindsey, Buzzfeed, 2014).
The clip below is a sample of Lindsey’s secret filming of catcallers.
Lindsey’s project was able to highlight the gap in understandings towards harassment and sexism. The harassers simply thought they were giving a compliment and could not understand how that would be considered harassment. Her project has effectively worked to raise awareness towards harassment. In this situation, were she lawfully obliged to seek the catcallers’ permission before uploading those videos, her project not have been possible and awareness around harassment would never have been raised.
I understand that having a sense of personal privacy is important, however, I would argue that there is a greater importance in having the freedom to capture things you witness. It gives us the opportunity to make perpetrators of prejudice (like Lindsey’s catcallers) accountable for their actions and it enables people (like those involved in the Turkey uprisings) to have a voice. As mere citizens, the only way we can gain power and justice is through capturing what we witness. This freedom, I believe, is essential.
BBC News (2014). “Turkey Profile”, BBC News – Europe. Available at: http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-17994865
Domingo, D., & Heinonen, A. (2008). “Weblogs and journalism”, Nordicom Review, 29(1), 3-15. Available at: http://jclass.umd.edu/classes/jour698m/domingoblogs.pdf
Testa, J, (2014). “This Woman Has Been Confronting Her Catcallers — And Secretly Filming Their Reactions”, Buzzfeed. Available at: http://www.buzzfeed.com/jtes/this-woman-has-been-confronting-her-catcallers-and-secretly#1q31pe