In the 36 hours or so since the stolen intimate photos of movie and music stars began to be published online, I have read some outstandingly stupid justifications and excuses for their distribution.
Most of them are depressingly familiar from other discussions of sexual violation. Typical arguments include that these (mostly) female stars have previously traded on their sexuality, so have forfeited their right to say “no” to any other appropriation of their sexuality; that by allowing private photos to be taken in the first place they were ‘asking for it’ and so have no right to complain if someone takes advantage; or that it is all some deliberate publicity ploy and that they were probably complicit in the leaks – or in other words, they wanted it really.
Amongst all this predictably disingenuous balderdash is one claim that I’ve seen repeatedly on various Reddit threads and by several commentators on this Guardian thread. This argument equates the release of the stars’ private photos to the leaking of the NSA files by Edward Snowden, and suggesting that if one approves of the latter, it is hypocritical to object to the former.
There are many things I could say in response to this, but the most polite and restrained is that it is completely upside down and back to front.
The horrifying truth revealed by the Snowden files is that none of us can ensure our privacy. Our electronic communications and digital records, including those we consider most personal and private, can be harvested at any time by arcane wings of the governing establishment with minimal democratic oversight or control. These spooky voyeurs can then decide what they want to view, what they want to share, how the materials gleaned can and should be used, and our opportunities to object or resist are close to zero.
The digi-libertarian netizens of 4Chan and Reddit generally get quite exercised and self-righteous about this kind of thing. I find it astonishing that they have yet to grasp that in distributing celebrities’ private photos – at every stage, from hacking the cloud to sharing the photos or links, even in gleefully or lasciviously gazing on every stolen photo – they are not behaving like an army of Edward Snowdens, brave whistleblowers and warriors against censorship and state secrecy. They are behaving exactly like the NSA they claim to despise – snooping, violating and exploiting without restraint or control.
The right to retain a private life and to hold one’s own personal secrets, shared intimacies and autonomy over one’s physical body and sexuality, is indeed under profound threat in the 21st century. It makes for a tragic, saddening spectacle to see those who claim to defend the final frontiers of freedom and liberty behaving like the surveillance behemoth they claim to despise.