That was the gist, several months ago, from a friend gingerly alerting me to the news that some suggestive—and presumably private—photos had made their way into the public domain.
I was both relieved and shocked to see that the pictures purporting to be me, were not me. On a normal-size screen the model looked more like a Kardashian than a Lewinsky. But on smaller handheld devices, I could see some resemblance. In the last week or two, as new batches of nude celebrity pictures have circulated around the Web—again violating the privacy of the women depicted—I was reminded of the few moments of sheer panic I had undergone before I realized my photos were not real.
I felt compassion for these young women. For all of our Instagram-enabled narcissism these days, there is no small degree of assault involved in having our private thoughts, our private conversations, our private photos dished up for the amusement and entertainment of the masses. Like so many others, I feel outrage—as a fellow victim, as a civilized individual, and as a woman—when other women are so easily and publicly violated. And I have found myself wondering: Have we become a world of pathetic voyeurs?
Are we turning into scruffy old men in dirty raincoats slouched in the back row at the Gotham City theater? But should we be making such a distinction? Of course not. It is immaterial that the recently purloined photos revealed under-dressed celebrities. And, yet, being human we often find ourselves torn between our own right to privacy and our dissolute desires as voyeurs and gossips in an image-and trivia-fueled culture.
How much we indulge our inquiring minds is an individual choice. But certainly we can agree that stolen private nudes of actresses or of anyone, really is crossing the double yellow line. When the horse and buggy were replaced with the Model T, there were few rules of the road. Ultimately, we devised stricter regulations on which everyone could agree. Speed limits. Stop signs. And double yellow lines that were not to be crossed. The analogy to the Internet is obvious: in its earliest days the Web was referred to as the information highway.
And freedom of information is so sacred, we cannot risk losing it. In these fractured and fractious times, is the risk of anyone wielding that much power too great? But cybercrime is now a daily fact of life and it is not unreasonable to expect our legal system to protect us. We can draw an imaginary double yellow line in that road and prosecute the miscreants who cross it. When you can see hacked, private nude photos, we have crossed a line.
And now we confront these photographs. And yet we seem to return again and again to the Fountain of Schadenfreude. So what should be done about cases like this? There are various options, according to attorney Nancy Libin, a long-time specialist in this field, who has served as the chief privacy and civil-liberties officer for the Justice Department. But because the Internet is borderless and many of these criminals are in foreign countries, they can be very difficult to trace.
We need to make sure we expand global cooperation by getting more nations to sign the cybercrime treaty and extradition treaties so these criminals can be brought to justice. More countries have to take a stand and recognize that this is something really pernicious. Second, there are far better security precautions that many companies need to take. Many of them are not doing enough, and they leave their users vulnerable. Third, people need to take personal responsibility for the security of their own data, using better passwords, for example.