The NSA, Naked Women — and How We Differentiate Between Violations of Privacy.

On November 12, 2014, ten years and a distance of 6.5 billion kilometers after its initial launch, the European Space Agency successfully landed a probe on a targeted comet whirling through space. This has never, ever been done before. On the very same day, Paper magazine released photos of Kim Kardashian’s ass. The internet exploded in response. Not because of the groundbreaking achievement in astrophysics — but because Kim’s photos did, as predicted, break the internet. Memes were bountiful and productivity diminished. The media, internet and all of its distraction-loving followers always has and, tragically, always will remain obsessed with the superficiality of celebrity life. And in these moments, it unfortunately occurs to me that the stars of Hollywood have a greater gravitational pull than the stars (and comets) of our galaxy. Sigh.

We the people love to be entertained and remain blissfully ignorant. Celebrity scandal, success, publicity, and mockery are a part of our culture and everyday lives. Some celebrities choose to stage dramatic personal events solely for public relations. And sometimes, celebrities are the target of malicious defamation for the personal gain of others. With no greater canvas, and no greater audience — celebrities are an ideal center of attention with which to become instantly [in]famous.

In the last few months, some of the most controversial and disturbing celebrity gossip involved Jennifer Lawrence, among many others, and something otherwise known as The Fappening. Private, nude images of celebrities stored in the cloud were obtained illegally via hackers and spread all over the internet. As expected, much of the public loved the leak. Some loved the drama and some, unabashedly, loved the images — but not nearly as many were adamant about establishing a discourse on what this violation actually means for all of us.

Violations of human rights are not purely minority-targeted. Sex crimes are not merely physical. Violations of privacy are not strictly bureaucratic.

Of course, it’s easy to feel as though what’s happened to Jennifer Lawrence couldn’t ever happen to us. After all, I would have loved to have been cast in The Hunger Games series — but that’s not a reality that I’m expecting to experience any time soon (but hey, Hollywood, I’m available if you need me). Therefore, the attention reserved strictly for celebrities, albeit positive or negative, is an experience from which we feel isolated — often feeling as though we are not even living on the same planet. Except, of course, that we are.

Publicly humiliating women by releasing nude images (or any other private material for that matter) is not only a violation of privacy and a sex crime — but also an enormous red flag on our integrity and ethics as a whole. Why is an invasion of personal privacy OK when the subject is a celebrity? Why is it OK to publicly release private, sexual content of a one-night stand or ex-lover? Why are the actions of the NSA a breach of privacy, but not any of this?

What’s happening is that we don’t have a singular policy about constitutional violations of privacy and rights for everyone, for all circumstances. Well, actually we do. We just don’t have a code of ethics that supports and defends those rights even when we ourselves are not the target. These are violations of privacy, whether you’re getting pleasure out of seeing naked images of Jennifer Lawrence or not. It’s a violation of privacy whether initiated by the government or hackers, and whether it’s illegal surveillance of telephone calls or the retrieval of celebrity pornographic images. If the government is shamelessly violating our privacy, we are up in arms. When a celebrity’s privacy is violated, we unapologetically gawk. I can assure you, the government is just as pleased with all of the data they have accumulated from tapped phone conversations — but the good of the few does not outweigh the good of the many.

We are all victims, and we are all corruptors, as long as we continue to accept that sometimes it’s OK and sometimes it’s not, depending on who you ask.

Not surprisingly, I’ve asked myself a number of times, “How many supporters of The Fappening are also anti-NSA?”  —  and I can’t help but think that statistic would be an alarming and disturbing pretense.

We the people have a great concern for our violation of privacy as disrupted by the government in its direct disregard to the fourth constitutional amendment — and yet, we the people ignore violations of privacy, as pertained to sexual matter and the rights of “someone other than me,” as merely a matter of opinion, depending of course on who is the subject and who is the subjugator.

There may come a time when privacy is simply a thing of the past. If we value our privacy, then we need to fight for what’s best for all of us. We must stand on a morally high ground that violations of privacy in any form at all are a violation, period.

Amy Martin

Amy was born on the wrong side of the Holland Tunnel, and has considered this just-missed connection to be a metaphor for her life ever since. Later, she traveled north to New England and received her degrees in Philosophy, Theatre and French. The years to follow have been spent traveling the world and working on multiple projects in Kenya, in a desperate attempt to save humanity. Amy spends most of her free time daydreaming about being French — but you can also find her in the garden, in the kitchen or on her yoga mat. Amy writes about travel, ethics, life and everything in-between.

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    I agree with everything in the article. The hackers should go to jail, NSA phone taping is a threat to our democracy and celebrities deserve their privacy. But… at the risk of outing myself as a pervert, I admit I downloaded the whole bundle, looked at it all and found the whole thing fascinating. What was interesting wasn’t a sexual curiosity or even a celebrity obsession. I didn’t even know who 90% of them were. It was simply that the photos were so humanizing. These people are generally so packaged and polished for our consumption. We see them on screen almost every day and this has the effect of making it seem like we know them, even though we clearly don’t. Seeing these stars in their natural habitats with all their imperfections, desires and humanity exposed didn’t diminish my admiration or respect for any of them. I say that with full awareness and agreement that it wasn’t my right to violate their privacy and that even talking about it now is probably a continuation of that assault. Even so, I still can’t deny that it wasn’t pleasing to “get to know” them in a manner that wasn’t scripted by a director or a team at their PR firm. The desire to feel closer to these people is what drives sales of gossip magazines, so I’m not trying to make this sound noble or even anything less delusional. But one of the most human of desires is the desire to really know (and be known by) another person we care about. This unauthorized look behind the curtins is pleasing in that it achieves part of that equation. Each of the stars exposed has become more popular, not less as a result. That’s not an excuse, just an observation. Upon realizing this “Fappening” was having a positive effect, more than a few of the women (or perhaps their managers or publicists) started purposely leaking photos to get in on the action. You can see the time stamps on many of the photos. While the initial sets are often poorly framed and poorly shot, as time progresses, the collection starts to look like submissions for a playboy cover shoot contest. It’s hard now to tell who’s being targeted. I deleted the photos the same day I downloaded them and I never shared them. With the possible exception of a memory of the delightfully determined Aubry Plaza, the images are erased from both mind and machine. I wish all those women well and I hope none of them have suffered lasting embarrassment or shame. They are all beautifully human and have nothing to feel ashamed of or for. I apologize for violating their privacy, but not for my curiosity. Forgive me, I’m human.

  2. Amy Weiner

    Thanks, Julie! I think we all need to take a serious look at our sense of ethics. Whether we are male, female, Hispanic, American, Muslim, homosexual, disabled, celebrity, poor or identified as anything else in between — as long as you are alive, there is someone who opposes who you are fundamentally. We are all different. If we justify our actions strictly based on our dislike of the “Other” — than those justifications will eventually make their way around to everyone. Disliking someone or something is one thing — targeting hate crimes or privacy violations because they are “someone other than me” will eventually affect everyone.

  3. Julie Anderson

    Amy, you have made a brilliant point about our society and its lack of education, the culture of celebrity and basically how we are all to blame. I think that the moment the celebrity balloon pops (which will never happen) maybe we will have a chance to be considered ahead of the curve, as a nation. So far though, America is a big fat joke.

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    I found this article when searching for photos of Kim Kardashian’s sweet rear-end. I’m upset that I read this entire article and there were no photos. I’m going to stick with TMZ from now on.

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