Celebrities and Privacy: An Unlucky Combination

Don't we violate a right by intruding in Jennifer Lawrence's private life?

Don’t we violate a moral right by intruding in Jennifer Lawrence’s private life?

While surfing on the internet I ‘accidentally’ stumbled upon a picture of Jennifer Lawrence (a famous, and very pretty, actrice) having lunch with her boyfriend at a London restaurant. The photo was quite obviously taken by a paparazzo. While looking at the picture I thought to myself: why is someone allowed to take a picture of this event? The obvious answer is: because it is legal to do so. But then the next question I asked myself was: should it be legal to do so? In other words: should we be allowed to take – and publish – pictures of someone in their private life? Let’s take a look at that question.

You could say that, since celebrities are – by definition – famous, we (‘society’) have the moral right to know what they are doing. But this is nonsense. For suppose that we would have that right. Then we would be allowed to stalk celebrities each and every minute of the day to see what they are doing: no matter whether they are at home, watching TV or taking a shower. This is clearly absurd. Therefore we do not have that right.

A stronger – but still invalid – argument would be following. Celebrities choose a job that was likely to make them well-known, and they knew this before they started their ‘celebrity career’. Hence they should accept all the consequences of this decision: including being photographed by paparazzi. But is this argument valid? It might be true that celebrities should accept all consequences of their decision. After all: if they don’t, they would lead a miserable life. But that doesn’t mean that all of the consequences are morally acceptable. It might be that taking photo’s, and publishing these photo’s, of someone in a restaurant is not a morally acceptable consequence of being famous. Hence we might want to ask ourselves whether we want to force anyone, celebrity or not, to accept a consequence is immoral. If not, we might have to reconsider our privacy laws.

This is of course not to say that it is morally wrong to take pictures of any celebrity engaged in any activity. A prime minister, for example, should be allowed to be photographed while attending an international congress. But this is not because we have the right to know what the prime minister is doing in his private life. For even if we would have that right, it wouldn’t apply to this case, since the congress is clearly not a private matter.

In case of the prime minister, society has the right to know whether its representatives are doing a good job at representing them, and it is solely because of this right that it is okay to take pictures of the prime minister at the congress. But since by far not all celebrities are our legal representatives, we don’t have the moral right to take pictures of all celebrities at all times – at least not when they are engaged in private activities, such as visiting a restaurant.

But what do you think?

Written by Rob Graumans

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