Debate Magazine

Thought Police

Posted on the 07 March 2011 by Humanwriter @roseforman

The public/private divide.
What is the difference between what we do in public and what we do in private and should they be equally protected? Or should we only respect the private lives of individuals? What about what people who are in the public eye? Should they have the same amount of respect or because they have thrown themselves into the public eye then should they have less rights to privacy?The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) decided that private actions, even when conducted in public should be protected by Article 8 of the Convention, the right to respect of private or family life. In the case of Hannover v. Germany, Caroline Von Hannover (the eldest daughter of Prince Rainier III of Monaco) tried to prevent publication of photos involving her family in the German press. German law granted that pictures of her children should not be published but refused to grant the Princess the same respect, stating that she was a public figure. The ECHR decided that this was not acceptable under the convention, the Court decided that there should be a reasonable expectation of privacy, for example in the home or office, but should this be extended to public areas?What happens when the actions of an individual affects them in their work life? In the Pay v. Lancashire Probation Service employment tribunal case the applicant (Mr Pay) was a probation officer but also ran an internet business selling sadomasochistic products and was a part time stripper. He was fired from the probation service after they found out. The UK court said that because what he did was in public, it was not part of his private life, they said that private life only applies to what happens at home (arguably the club in which he was a dancer was private, what is the distinction between public places and private places, such as being naked in a park or being naked in a strip club.- there are places where he should have a reasonable expectation of privacy).This case was never taken to the European Court, but it could have been and there is fair evidence to suggest that the facts would have breached Article 8.Should there be any interference in an individual’s private life if it does not affect their job? Such as politicians who have extra-marital affairs, surely if they conduct their affairs in their own time and own homes then it doesn’t affect the way they act 9-5 in the office? Of course there is the question of them being representatives in society, or celebrities as role models or the face of a company, such as the John Galliano scandal. If he is anti-Semitic then it reflects upon the Dior company as a whole, therefore Dior have a right to fire him, particularly as it is illegal in France to express anti-Semitic views in public. However, Mr Pay didn’t break any laws, he is perfectly within his rights to take off his clothes in his spare time or sell handcuffs over the internet, but this reflects badly on the probation service and would throw it into “disrepute” according to the employment tribunal, they also expressed concern that those under probation whom he was supervising might have used this information against him if it was made public.So where do we draw the line on our public and private actions? It turns out that it is not always the case that you can do what you like at home, we will always have to monitor our behaviour even in our “tolerant” society. 

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