We knew it would come to this. Those cheerleaders for openness in all things, transparency, full disclosure (including me) sooner or later would run into the problems associated with it. Today our government is being wrenched with the question of privacy of citizen information. The president talks about striking a balance between national security and right to privacy. But who is to decide what balance should be struck? And how can broadbased surveillance be effective if everyone knows the formula for choosing whose activity will be monitored and whose not?
In the news business, similar questions are being raised. This is beyond the tracking of phone calls to try to stop security leaks (and damaging political leaks). Connecticut just passed a law that makes it illegal to make public previously available photos, images, audio reports relating to any homicide. News media will no longer be able to show much about homicides in Connecticut:
The bill as approved exempts photographs, film, video, digital or other images depicting a homicide victim from being part of the public record “to the extent that such record could reasonably be expected to constitute an unwarranted invasion of the personal privacy of the victim or the victim’s surviving family members.”
One can understand the sensitivity of Connecticut since this legislation is a direct result of the horrific events at Sandy Hook Elementary School. But, does this overreach? What the heck will local TV do when they can’t show images and videos involving homicides?
Personally, I avoid local TV because they seem obsessed with crimes, particularly crimes against children. But, since they measure the success of their offerings hour by hour, no doubt this kind of coverage is what their audiences demand. And if the public demands it, how will it work to make it illegal?
The royal family couldn’t keep the fact that Prince Harry was sent to Afghanistan, despite the full cooperation of all the news media. Some blogger in Australia provided the world the information. Will passing a law keep these images from the public? Or did the Connecticut legislature handcuff the local news media, giving one more huge advantage to the anonymous social media hack who gets his/her hand on the graphic image or video?
Is Snowden a hero or traitor? Does disclosing the widespread personal surveillance going on in our government constitute an act of patriotism, or as President Putin seems to suggest by his generous offer of asylum, an act of treachery?
These are difficult questions, but some of the most important facing our world today. The mere reality of a complete connected world with minimum of government censorship means that transparency is a reality, in many cases, a very uncomfortable reality. I for one, opt for freedom. But freedom demands responsibility, and we can be assured that there will always be some yahoo that acts irresponsibly. That’s where laws come in. Unfortunately, like Connecticut’s well-intended law, the irresponsibility of a few leads to a loss of freedom for all. Ah, yes, a balance must be struck.