Does "privacy" have some binary quality?
Do you have privacy, or you don't?
And if you don't, does that make you then "fair game" for intrusions by strangers?
Does it make you "fair game" for the tabloid media for the publication of your personal information and photographs of you to their readers?
Take for example, John, a gay man.
John was not quite the only gay in the village, but his family and neighbours back home have no idea of his sexuality and, being reactionary and religious sorts, they would rather disapprove. He would rather they didn't know.
John, however, freely walks around central London with his boyfriend. Sometimes they hold hands; sometimes they even kiss in public. Nobody in London really notices; nobody in London really cares.
He is not a celebrity, and he has certainly never made any public pronouncement about sexuality. It would never have crossed his mind.
But one day, without his fault, he gets mixed up in a major news story, as members of the public can do. A tabloid now wants to splash a story about him and his boyfriend, with a photograph taken surreptitiously as they walk down Oxford Street; even worse, it is the tabloid his parents' read. Stephen the reporter phones John up first, so as to "get his side of the story". Stephen considers John's actions in the street as "fair game".
Does John have any "right" to privacy in these circumstances?
Should John have the right to determine when to tell his family and family's neighbours about his sexuality, or even to elect not to tell them at all? He is not a public figure, nor has he sought fame; but he is no longer in charge of when such personal information is to be published not only to those back home, but to the world.
Does the simple fact that he held hands with a man and kissed him in public in London mean that, in an instant, he loses his privacy rights about his sexuality?
Or are there things one can do nominally in "public" which do not trigger any right for any stranger to broadcast that thing to everyone else?
Scenarios like this provide the complications for the emerging law of privacy.
The difficult examples (at least for some) are those where a person is in public - say a beach or a quiet town or street - but has a subjective expectation of privacy. Should that expectation be protected by the law in any way and, if so, how?
Such privacy can work both ways: it isn't just about the Johns of this world. Indeed, little known to John, his parents and their neighbours - even with their backward opinions about homosexuality - or go down a local public house on swingers' evenings. They too do "private" things in "public" places, and they would not want John to know.
And Stephen, the tabloid reporter who wants to expose John, also routinely receives "private" information from his sources in public places, perhaps in the street or in snack bars, or chatting on his mobile telephone. Is that information also now "public"? Can anyone publish it? If what John does in public "fair game" why is that not true for Stephen the tabloid journalist?
In fact, all people want privacy in nominally public places. If every act outside the home or workplace was to be shown to the world then people would surely not be able to properly function under the glare.
But that said, it is less clear where the law - the formal ability to enforce rules backed with coercive force - should intervene.
If privacy in public places consists of shades of grey, how does the black-and-white world of the law fit in?
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