Privacy Contradictions

I’ve probably mentioned this before, but Europeans have some intense views on privacy, and this has some very real effects on photographers. There is this idea in many European countries that a person owns images of himself. I question the legal rationale behind this and it certainly limits the possibility of a free press. It also might be a little naive in today’s world. But, at this time, I don’t intend to really criticize this stance offhand (because, hey, I like privacy too). I don’t even really want to talk about the legal side but, instead, just the cultural side. I don’t feel that these demands for privacy are very principled, at least in France.

I think it’s generally good policy to respect people’s wishes. If a friend asks me not to share a photo, that’s basically fine. I don’t even question it. I myself shield my face in public when tourists are around. I am not overly shy about the camera, but I just find it disrespectful to take photos of people you don’t know. So I’m cool with this idea. However, I do find it a bit unfortunate when you take a photo with friends and then cannot share it because of one holdout. I see a subjective distinction between the case of some friends taking a photo together and a tourist snapping shots of random people.

That being said, my big problem with it is the inconsistency with other areas of French life. It seems OK to have a cultural shyness in which you don’t want to broadcast your activities to the world. However, if that’s how the French feel, I wish they would stop sending my birth certificate and passport all around the country in unencrypted emails. This is a huge problem in France. It’s even common for hotels to request credit card numbers via email. My requests/demands that people don’t do this with my personal information are generally shrugged off. My concerns are seen as unfounded and certainly not worth the hassle of finding an alternative. (Of course email is a huge privacy/security problem for personal information.) To me, this makes the whole thing less genuine. It seems like there is an indignation-laziness tradeoff at play here. They’ll get indignant about you trampling all over their privacy by sharing a photo, but using encrypted email or sending things by post? No, that’s inconvenient. Privacy isn’t that important.

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