Hacking Hollywood


Can we make anything of what, according to The Independent, is one of “the biggest celebrity hacks of all time”? Celebrities who crow and drape themselves over each other for the next ghastly “selfie” rush to lawyers and authorities when their fleshier items are revealed.  Starring in the list of photos hacked from Apple’s iCloud service are images of Jennifer Lawrence, Mary E. Winstead and Kirsten Dunst.  The website 4Chan proved to be a happy recipient.

Members of the public might struggle to understand how celebrity privacy could ever be viable. After all, the likes of Mark Zuckerberg[1] suggest that such phenomena as social networking had eliminated privacy as a norm. (After Edward Snowden’s revelations, he beat a hasty retreat.)  The law of the European Union on privacy has made it clear that the private realm is, in fact, a matter for all citizens.  It’s human rights charter cacoons and buffers the subject from undue intrusion.  The common law jurisdictions tend to be rather mixed on the subject, seeing the use of photos or material of a celebrity within the context of how that person was behaving at the time.   Is the information intended as confidential?

There are few angels in this business.  Salivating paparazzi, with hungry hackers, attempting to obtain that next lascivious shot for a buck; celebrities who attempt to divorce the use, and abuse, of their image on a daily basis from private intercourse. The moment the public sphere became muddied with a private one, problems were bound to arise.

Responses to the latest Hollywood hack have ranged between alleged molestation, to a gendered thesis on the trafficking of women’s images without their consent.  “It is also an offence that threatens to affect all women, famous and unknown,” writes Amanda Hess for Slate.[2]  There is certainly a huge incentive to have property in your own image, to be only alienated on your own volition. The law can then be resolved around traditional notions of theft and appropriation.

There are already cases of individuals sentenced for the unauthorised sharing of private nude photographs, be they of such stars as Mila Kunis or Scarlett Johansson and non-celebrities.  Christopher Chaney[3] did precisely that, and was given a 10 year prison sentence in 2012.

With that said, celebrities tend to be rather quick on the draw when it comes to injunctions, restrictions and orders to prevent discussion about their often banal affairs.  This is particularly the case in such jurisdictions as Britain, where the peeping tom complex runs riot on the tabloid circuit.  The underlying assumption there is that trash begets trash, and the celluloid world is rather trashy to begin with.  Celebrity is commodity.

To a large extent, that monster of law known as the super injunction has been used to prevent discussion on such topics as divorce, marital infidelity and what I should have done to you last summer. Merely speaking about it can land you in contempt.  But what is far more sinister is the use of such a legal tool to stifle political discussion, or the revelations of corrupt practices.  (Interestingly enough, that has been omitted from the current furore.)

There are broader issues at stake.  Celebrity itself should never be a cloak of immunity for anything, but the topic is far more relevant than that. It involves protocols of behaviour – not merely what is done to an image, but whether that image should be stored on a cloud service in the first place.

Hess rejects such ideas, taking the ground that they are absolute and have little, if anything, to do with conduct and behaviour of victims.  People, and for Hess, women, are not to blame for placing naked pictures in an insecure setting, especially given that they just might be watched.

Hess cites an erroneous comparison by Lena Dunham, who claims that, “The ‘don’t take naked pics if you don’t want them online’ argument is the ‘she was wearing a short skirt’ of the web.”  Dunham is muddling the expectation to privacy on the one hand with the sexualization of the subject with its consequences, a separate issue.  She would be on better ground suggesting that the integrity of the data with its storage, not the person, is what is at issue.

It is true to say that clients of such third party storage services are bound to expect appropriately equal, and competent treatment, regarding their data.  But by definition, data integrity is a misnomer in a world of shoddy passwords and careless handling.  There is probably a case to be made that any cloud service should be prevented from guaranteeing the total security of their stored data.

It is a bleak world indeed.  If the data is not being compromised by the NSA or GCHQ, it is being furrowed away into the voyeuristic archives of hackers who simply know better.  Information stored is information grabbed.  While various laws of data protection will require that parties running such clouds do so within the means of their assurances, the hacker tends to be, if not a step ahead then several.  Those using a cloud service have to be reminded by that ancient warning: caveat emptor.  What the buyer is protected from, however, is quite another story. The emphasis there is less on selfies than self-helpers.

Dr. Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge.  He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne.  Email: bkampmark@gmail.com

Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge. He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne. Email: bkampmark@gmail.com

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