Can Public Information Be Private?
I shot a great video of people using a marker to draw funny pictures on this drunk girl who passed out at my party and am going to post it on YouTube.
This is a Q1 violation if (among other things) you think that:
- Someone’s image shouldn’t be published without their permission,
- Being passed out is not sufficient justification for public ridicule,
- You should not publish something that might embarrass someone much later in their life, even if they thought it was funny now, or
- Embarrassing pranks should not be glorified.
This is a Q2 violation if you wouldn’t want embarrassing pictures of you posted on the Internet.
Most people would agree that it’s immoral to disseminate something immorally received (such as video from a store’s dressing room) unless there is a morally compelling reason to do otherwise, but might it also be unethical in some circumstances to disseminate a photo, recording, or other information that we received in an honest manner?
In the below situations, should you treat the information received as private? If not, who could you ethically share it with?
- You monitor a security camera in a store’s elevator and have a tape of a man picking his nose.
- You overhear a funny discussion between a retail clerk and a stupid customer. You could blog about it without mentioning anyone’s name or what store you were in.
- You’re taping a television show and one of the actors accidentally lets out a massive, embarrassing burp in the middle of a love scene.
- While on vacation, you take a photo of your family on a famous street. When the photo is developed, you can see in the background that a man is talking to a woman, and it looks like she’s a prostitute.
- While taking vacation videos, you get footage of a woman repeatedly slapping her daughter.
- You are shooting a video out the window of your car and catch a few frames of a naked man visible through a crack in his house’s curtains.
- You find a wallet. There’s not enough information in it to identify the owner, but it holds an old love letter that’s so corny it’s hilarious.
- A colleague accidentally e-mails a love note to the entire company.
- When your friend returns your video camera to you, you discover that a tape of intimate bedroom activities was left inside.
- When your friend returns your video camera to you, you discover that her son used it to videotape himself vandalizing a local business.
- When your friend returns your laptop to you, you discover that its webcam somehow got footage of your friend’s sister doing drugs.
- While repairing a computer, you find that the hard drive is full of horrific child pornography.
- On an online porn site, you find an explicit video of what looks like your English teacher when she was much younger.
- You see the sixteen-year-old daughter of a friend at the drugstore buying condoms and a pregnancy test.
- A man who is "blowing the whistle" on unethical corporate behavior appears on television in disguise to protect his anonymity, but you’re sure you recognize him.
- While doing a search of public records, you discover that your neighbor has twice been prosecuted for rape (but never found guilty).
- In a dumpster behind an office building, you find printouts of customer Social Security and credit card numbers.
- The person who use the library computer last forgot to sign out, and you discover that you can access all his e-mail messages.
You are encouraged to leave your answers to the questions posed in this post in the comments section. This post is based on an excerpt from Ask Yourself to be Moral, by D. Cancilla, available at LuLu.com and Amazon.com. See the 2Q system page for details of the philosophical system mentioned in this post.