There is an pattern emerging:
- Private information was leaked to the media alleging that prime minister Tony Abbott’s daughter had received special privilege in obtaining a scholarship to attend a private education institution.
- Personal emails from Sydney University academic Barry Spurr have been leaked with allegation that his views make him an inappropriate choice for a curriculum review.
We can quibble in Spurr’s case as to whether the emails belonged to him or they belonged to his employer.* Unless either he or his employer gave permission to have those emails released to New Matilda, they have been stolen. So we’re not seeing public behaviour being criticised, but rather private behaviour being exposed. Now I’m happy to believe that some private behaviour should be exposed in public – for example, crimes, corruption, and the like, should not be protected by rights to privacy. It iss up to those making the “public interst” claim to demonstrate that public interest.
The important distinction between what is private and public is demonstrated by this piece in The Conversation relating to Revenge Porn:
“Revenge porn”. It’s when a partner or ex-partner posts nude or intimate pictures or videos online and without consent. And in the absence of better laws, perpetrators are largely getting away with it.
The media and public responses to the issue have been slowly shifting. Where once it was common to blame and shame victims for taking nude or sexy pictures in the first place, now there are calls to hold the perpetrators of these sexual violations responsible for their actions.
The harm to victims
Victims describe feeling sexually violated when they discover their images have been posted online. In fact, like other forms of sexual violence, emerging evidence suggests that it is most often women and girls who experience this kind of victimisation. And, like our attitudes to sexual violence generally, too often we have blamed and shamed the victim while ignoring or minimising the actions of the perpetrator.
In what way then does releasing private information about the PMs daughter or Barry Spurr not constitute political violence in the same way publishing intimate photos constitute sexual violence? Most people would be appalled if anyone were to judge victims of revenge porn by the content of their private moments, yet (almost) everyone has been only too happy to condemn Barry Spurr. Would the University of Sydney suspend a revenge porn victim? I suspect only if the incident pointed to some other activity that constituted misconduct.
* Warning to academics: You should assume that your email is being read by third parties. You should also assume that anything you post into the internal mail can and will be opened, and its contents examined, before leaving the university.