09 December 2011

Privacy, sword or shield?

A couple of unrelated incidents this week got me thinking, again, about privacy and our relations with the State. Over many years I have often suspected that the idea of privacy, when raised by anyone in authority, is more of a repressive idea than a civil right.

First, a refugee family in detention in Sydney -- and I say refugee rather than asylum seeker because apparently they have been found to have a well-founded fear of persecution but are still awaiting security clearance before being released. According to the Sydney Morning Herald, the four-year old child of the family was attending a function at his pre-school under the watchful gaze of security officers protecting the community from the dangers posed by the toddler. When it came time for the photos, the officers stepped in and refused any snaps to be taken. Why? according to the SMH, they claimed they were protecting the family's privacy. Hang on a second, I thought, if a person is willing and happy to have their photo taken (or in the case of a small child, if the parents are), then surely they have waived their right to privacy. Or can privacy be thrust upon you? Apparently so, in this case at least.

In the second case, a woman attending an Occupy Movement protest in Melbourne probably wished her privacy had been so diligently defended by the organs of the State. As a protest against the confiscation of tents and sleeping bags, she had fashioned a dress into the shape of a tent. A group of male and female police officers surrounded her and forcibly removed the garment, at one point emplying a knife to do so, while the woman protested loudly and made it perfectly clear that she did not consent to what was happening. As the cops marched off with their booty, she was left huddled on the ground in her underwear.

It seems that privacy is something that can be thrust upon you, or torn and cut away from you, depending on the whim of the authorities. I'm not sure that is what it was supposed to be about.

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