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Friday, December 4, 2009

Privacy, Technology, Tiger Woods and Uncommon Common Sense


Unless you live under a rock and have been depriving some village of its idiot, you have heard about the Tiger Woods car accident / rumored infidelity.

This scandal would likely never have seen the light of day were it not for the availability and accessibility of technology to record and distribute information in virtual real-time.   It seems that at least one person created a recording of various voice mails, and possibly other conversations, pictures or other events, purportedly from or involving Woods.  

This may be the latest and biggest case to illustrate the advantages -- and the perils -- of technology.   On the other hand, as someone who engages in the occasional investigation, there is a wealth of information "out there" and multiple ways to access all sorts of things that are clearly within the public domain.   If anything, the problem is sifting through the "noise" to determine what is useful, in order to recognize the "pattern" of facts you need among the incredible clutter. 

From the plaintiff's perspective, technology allows you to exploit the indiscretions of others.   There are some people who do incredibly foolish things.   Among those things is believing that they will "never get caught."  

From the defendant's perspective, there is the claim of an invasion of "privacy."   But that raises different questions:  what exactly is privacy, and what are the limits of that so-called "right of privacy"?

When wrongdoers get caught, they will complain and assert all sorts of rights.   What they really mean to say is something to the effect of: I have the right to do what I want...and hide it from someone else who has a right to know.  

To his credit, Mr. Woods does not appear to be taking this approach.   Not to condone any infidelity -- and I repeat that we have yet to hear his side of the story -- but there are indications this is a situation he is confronting.   In fact, he may have been confronting it on Thanksgiving evening, the same night when he got into the now-infamous one-car accident.

However, I find it remarkable that many people still "trust" technology.   Mr. Woods may have been spared this public embarassment if only he had avoided using cell phones and voice mail, two gadgets which we now take as routine and which leave a digital imprint that can be detected by someone else.   I contend that technology can be used to reveal, as well as conceal, confuse, hide and deceive.   (One reason why detectives and investigators, and lawyers, will never truly be replaced by machines or algorithms.)  Had Mr. Woods been a little less trusting, he would have protected himself from the exploitation by a malicious third party -- whether it be a girlfriend of some sort, or simply someone else looking for a big payday -- who seeks either to gain something (money? attention?) or inflict severe pain or revenge.  Let us not forget that in Mr. Woods' case, someone is out there who is aching to exploit his pain (however well deserved it may be) for their gain.  This leads me to my final point.

The rich, famous and highly accomplished  are different.  The "rules" are different.   These people need to take heightened precautions with everyone they encounter, because they are uniquely susceptible to exploitation and abuse.   It is critical that people take measures to guard their personal matters and inspect the people around them.   Some may criticize this state of "constant vigilance" or "war-readiness" as some sort of paranoia.   However, a reputation once lost is never quite the same.   The vigilance may be the best, if imperfect, method to ensure the best chance of preserving one's image.  

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