Earlier this year, I suggested that hypocrisy may not be a sufficient standard for outing someone as gay and that even hypocrites had a right to privacy, unless that hypocrisy had a tangible negative effect on public policy. Not everyone in the comments agreed with me.
A similar issue has been raised by the massive release of data by hackers about the users of the Ashley Madison website (that connects married people who are seeking to have affairs) has raised and generated a whole lot of controversy as to what possible public service is advanced by releasing details of people’s personal lives. The release of this data has led to all kinds of media stunts where people have been humiliated on air. It may also leave people vulnerable to blackmail and other personal troubles.
Glenn Greenwald has a good article that this interest in who subscribed to the site tells us more about ourselves than the people whose lives have been revealed. And what it shows, puritanical glee and titillation masked by a veneer of moral uprightness, is not pretty.
But whatever else is true, adultery is a private matter between the adulterer and his or her spouse. Except in the most unusual cases – such as a politician hypocritically launching morality crusades against others – it’s most definitely not any of your business. None of us should want (ironically) anonymous hackers serving as vigilante morality police by exposing the private sexual acts of other adults. Nor should any of us cheer when the private lives of ordinary people are indiscriminately invaded, no matter how much voyeuristic arousal or feelings of morality superiority it provides. We love to think of ourselves as so progressive and advanced, yet so often leap at the opportunity to intervene and wallow around in, and sternly pass judgment on, the private sexual choices of other adults.
It should be noted that having an extra-marital affair is not even a crime (except for those in the military which has its own rules). So the people using the site were engaged in completely legal activities.
At one time, the only question was what right to privacy public figures had. The privacy rights of private people were unquestioned. No more, it seems.