Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Private eyes are watching you

By Carl 

In all the uproar over government surveillance and the NSA wiretaps and what not, we seem to be ignoring a far greater invasion of our collective privacies:

Celebrities can take back exits and limos with tinted windows to dodge the paparazzi -- but a leaked video that purportedly shows Beyoncé's sister beating up on Jay Z in the elevator of a swanky New York hotel is a reminder that there are still plenty of ways to be caught on candid camera.

The grainy footage obtained by entertainment website TMZ allegedly shows Solange Knowles roughing up the rapper, and was reportedly recorded by a surveillance camera on May 5 at The Standard hotel. While it's unclear how the footage was leaked, multiple people could have accessed the archives, a security expert told NBC News.

"We are shocked and disappointed that there was a clear breach of our security system and the confidentiality that we count on providing our guests," The Standard told The Grio in an email. The company added it is "investigating with the utmost urgency."

To me, this is merely an extension of the paparazzi phenomenon of the 1970s and '80s: people in public places (and yes, a hotel elevator would be deemed a public place) caught on camera in what one might say are states of public solitude – underdressed, no makeup, engaged in private conversations, being naughty in some respect or other.

Lately, it seems these incidents have become far more commonplace: the rash seems to have started with Congressman Vance McAllister and run through Donald Sterling to Jay-Z and his family. Security footage or other supposedly "private" recordings leaked to the press and published.

I don't have a lot of sympathy for those caught (indeed, in Sterling's case, it was his taping system that was used against him, much like Watergate and President Nixon). If you're not at home, you should assume you're on camera, particularly if you have any kind of public profile.

The Standard Hotel, in this instance, is likely going to be slapped with a civil suit by Jay-Z et al. And likely, the judge will laugh it out of court (or give some nominal judgment for the plaintiff). Obviously, Jay-Z couldn't control the physicality of his sister-in-law, and it seems to me that he was aware there might be a camera since all his efforts appear to be put towards calming things down.

Or perhaps I'm being unfair, and he truly was interested in making peace in short order and had no suspicion of a camera. Although in a New York City elevator... any elevator... you can expect you're on someone's monitor somewhere. Jay-Z probably knows this as well as I do.

The raft of criminal trials and civil suits from such things as assaults have forced this situation upon us: it's not a matter of "he said, she said" (or "he said, he said" or "she said, she said") if there's a videotape to watch.

Many would argue that the fact that a camera exists is no reason for the tape to be released, but I'd argue that to expect all tapes to remain locked up is not a solution either. There's a gray line, a pretty thin one, between proving something did or did not happen, and leaking a private tape.

For instance, one could speculate that this tape of Jay-Z was released with the knowledge of one party or other, to help bolster their side of a different story, one we haven't heard yet. In the case of Congressman McAllister (and, to a degree, Donald Sterling), the tape reveals information about the subject that was not known publicly and would affect the decisions of people in their sphere of influence. The question then becomes, when is it enough?

And that's the real argument to be had over this issue. To claim it was wrong to release any tape is to argue about the horse after the barn is empty.

(Cross-posted to Simply Left Behind.)

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