Awkward Privacy Snap

I felt guilty of privacy intrusion today. It was awkward. I was challenged on the train in Sydney and I was left with a few thoughts on privacy.

I sat on the train in the middle of two passengers. On my right, a lady was simply looking around. On my left, a gentleman was reading a book. It was an old novel with yellow pages. In front of us, all passengers were humbly bowing to their mobile phones. They all seemed intensely absorbed into their digital lives.
I found the scene interesting and I saw a composition: old book vs smartphones. The gentlemen with the old book also seemed more present and more alive than his digitally absorbed fellow passengers.
I instinctively reached out to my mobile phone and took a picture of the scene. While doing so, I consciously avoided having any faces on the picture for privacy reasons (the thought had come to mind).
I then looked at the picture and it was a total miss. The picture didn’t portray the feeling I was looking for at all . While I was looking at it, the lady on my right, who was not on the picture I had taken, challenged me.

“Why did you take a picture of those people?!”. I felt caught red handed of privacy intrusion. I turned to her, shown her the picture and explained why I took it. I added that I was very keen on the subject of people and technology and how they relate to each others’. The scene gave me an inspiration that I could write about. I had felt compelled to take a picture of the scene in the moment without any further thought on whether I would use it or not.
She was looking at me with intensity and told me she had been the victim of privacy abuse in the past. Somebody took pictures of her in public places. She didn’t provide much details, but I sensed it had been a serious case of privacy intrusion. I was sorry to hear about her story and I understood where her challenge to me came from.
We kept talking for a while. It turns out that she is also professionally invested into the relationship between people and technology, as a leader for digital transformation initiatives in her industry. I shared with her my passion for privacy, which I sometime blog about and had some articles published on. She conceded that the yellow-page book was “weird” and (unfortunately) rare to see in public transports nowadays.

Before leaving the train she asked: “Do you ever get challenged when you take pictures of other people?”. I replied that it was the first time I had been challenged and that I liked it. I understood where she came from, I highly value privacy and I don’t intend to intrude. I had also enjoyed the discussion. I rarely take pictures of people in public places nowadays. I used to do a lot of it years ago in my student time. I had my own black & white photo labs and I was doing a lot of street photography. I was a big fan of Robert Doisneau, a French photographer reknown for his street art.

Thoughts on privacy:

  • It would appear I did nothing illegal by taking the picture in the train. I did a quick research on Australian laws. I also searched for anything on the subject from Transport for New South Wales and found nothing indicating any wrongdoing. Somebody please correct me if I missed something on the subject. I would be very keen to stand corrected if wrong.
  • The (headless) people I had on the picture were possibly sharing a lot more private information on social media than my (unpublished) picture could ever share.
  • I feel so sorry for the lady who had been the victim of a privacy intrusion in the past (not through my picture, she wasn’t on it). I wonder about her case and what people in her situation can do aside of challenging the suspicious photographer.

What do you think?

3 thoughts on “Awkward Privacy Snap

  1. Hey Gui,

    People seem to be very concerned with their privacy.. or rather the illusion of it. If only they knew how much information was kept about them. They wouldn’t sweat this small stuff.

    It’s not illegal to take pictures in public places but I would guess that would change soon enough. People have misgivings about how a photo infringes their rights and I am not sure how in does.

    The lady on the train I think therefore has a poor sense of priorities in this subject.

    Having said that, it’s a bit of unwritten rule to not take photos in close proximity of other people. Like on a train. It’s considered a bit rude… an invasion of space. Like if you just started reading over someone’s shoulder (which I am very guilty of).

    Thanks for the article.

    Liked by 1 person

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