Rights, responsibilities, and naked celebrities

Sep 4, 2014

I had lunch yesterday in a fairly ordinary restaurant in midtown Detroit. Whenever there is a big news event, I’m curious as to what normal people are saying about it.

Yesterday, for example, I thought people might be talking about Detroit’s bankruptcy trial. After all, a couple of miles from where I was eating, one of the city’s creditors was telling the judge he wanted the Detroit Institute of Arts’ collections sold so he could get his money.

But nobody was talking about that. Instead, the few snatches of conversation I heard were all about the hacking – stealing, really – of pictures of naked celebrities, which were then uploaded where we could all see them, if we cared to. One of them was Detroit Tigers’ pitcher Justin Verlander, who may be the best-paid worker in the city.

Lots of people are indignant about this, including Tigers’ fans, since Verlander, possibly upset by all this, pitched an absolutely horrible game last night.

Nancy Kaffer, a columnist for the Detroit Free Press, wrote that those exposed should not be criticized in any way. “It doesn’t matter why any of the celebrities targeted … snapped those pictures,” she said. “They are victims of a crime,” she said, “in just the same way as victims of identity theft. That’s all anyone needs to know.”

Today we live in a world where we have to assume the possibility of all surveillance virtually all the time, and if we forget the potential consequences, we may well have to take those consequences.

Well, technically, she’s right. However, there is also something to be said for minimizing unnecessary risk, as a data-crunching wizard I know likes to say.

Think about this: I have every right as a citizen to put on a top hat and a tuxedo and walk around some tough neighborhood at 2 a.m. carrying a glass of bubbly grape juice and imitating Fred Astaire.

This, however, would not be wise.

And if I were beaten up and robbed, I don’t think people would feel very sorry for me. They would think I was an idiot for tempting fate. Now I am not saying there is anything good about people having their privacy violated in this way. But I am saying that if Justin Verlander or Jennifer Lawrence thought anything they put on their phones, or the Internet, or in the cloud was secure, they were stupid.

Barely a day goes by without a new story about hackers breaching some supposedly secure firewall and stealing credit card information or social security numbers.

And we also need to keep a sense of perspective. There are pop TV psychologists who are saying this was the equivalent of physical sexual assault. I also talked to a woman yesterday who was beyond furious about that. She was raped as a child.

“I know the difference,” she said. 

Today we live in a world where we have to assume the possibility of all surveillance virtually all the time, and if we forget the potential consequences, we may well have to take those consequences.

Incidentally, in the interests of full disclosure, there is precisely one naked picture of myself. It was taken in early 1952, I was on my tummy, and I was, for once, quite cute. But it is not on the Internet.

And now I hope the media will give my family some peace.

Jack Lessenberry is Michigan Radio’s political analyst. Views expressed in the essays by Lessenberry are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of Michigan Radio, its management or the station licensee, The University of Michigan.