Michael Tabman

Privacy is Dead; Civility is Not

In Crime and Security on March 16, 2012 at 7:54 pm

The jury has spoken: Former Rutgers Student Is Found Guilty In Webcam Spying Case.

Unfortunately, most of us are familiar with the tragic fate of Tyler Clementi. Tyler was 18 years old when he jumped to his death from the George Washington Bridge in 2010. Tyler’s suicide came after finding out that his roommate Dharun Ravi surreptitiously pointed a webcam at his bed and transmitted a video of him kissing another man. Tyler was neither expecting nor prepared for such an encounter to be made into public amusement for twisted minds. Many people would be embarrassed at having their intimate moments broadcast on the internet for all to see. We all know that privacy is dead. Every bit of datum about us can be found by a search of our digital footprint. We are filmed at almost every public location. Also, we have learned that the photos we want kept private should not be put on any social medium, secure or not.

But what about privacy within our own homes and bedrooms? While we know that the technology exists to easily violate the walls of privacy, should we simply concede our rights and expectations? The rule of law when governing someone’s right to privacy generally addresses whether one had a reasonable expectation to privacy. We would probably all agree that within our homes, bedrooms and dorm rooms, our expectation to privacy is reasonable and must be protected.

Ravi’s defense attempted to paint this as a childish prank of a 20 year old, not an action with criminal intent. The jury did not buy it. Neither did I. To simply characterize this as a “prank” would be putting the stamp of approval on a deliberate, mean and disgusting invasion of privacy. If Tyler did not commit suicide, would this matter have made it to the courts and be in the public eye? Maybe not. But Tyler did commit suicide and that underscored the significance of these uncivil acts. Ravi was not charged in relation to Tyler’s death. Among other charges, he was convicted of bias intimidation (a hate crime) and invasion of privacy.

Our system of justice will determine the appropriate punishment for Ravi. Many factors will weigh in this decision – some mitigating, some aggravating. Hopefully a fair sentence will be handed down – though there will never be a consensus on what constitutes fair. Hopefully, Tyler’s death will bring a public awareness to the dangers of hate, bullying and the growing lack of civility in our society. Maybe Tyler will force us to reverse this troubling trend.

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