Hacker waiting for something with binary code in background
Hacker waiting for something with binary code in background ()

Labor Day weekend was an enjoyable three-day holiday for most. But on Sunday, a massive celebrity nude photo leak took the Internet by storm. Naked and scantily-clad snapshots of a number of celebrities appeared online and spread virally. According to media reports, victims included Jennifer Lawrence, Hillary Duff, Kate Upton, Lea Michelle, Mary Kate Olsen, Mary Winstead, Rihanna and Scarlet Johansson.

Online social media sites such as Twitter and Reddit exploded with links to the photographs. Some websites later replaced the uncensored photographs with censored versions. Others removed them completely.

Some of the celebrity victims have publicly responded, claiming that the photographs that were leaked were fake. Others, such as Lawrence, have responded (via spokesperson) by saying: “This is a flagrant violation of privacy. The authorities have been contacted and will prosecute anyone who posts the stolen photos of Jennifer Lawrence.” In fact, the FBI is working to identify the individual or individuals that stole these images.

In a different approach, celebrity victim Mary E. Winstead took to Twitter: “To those of you looking at photos I took with my husband years ago in the privacy of our home, hope you feel great about yourselves.” She certainly hit the nail on the head. The public dissemination of these photographs was a clear invasion of privacy. None of these victims consented to the distribution of their photographs. Just because one or more of them had, at some point, appeared nude on screen, does not constitute consent for the distribution of private, intimate photographs.

Oddly, an overwhelming number of individuals speaking out about this incident–both celebrities and non-celebrities–are placing blame on the victims. Actress Lena Dunham might have said it best when she tweeted: “The ‘don’t take naked pics if you don’t want them online’ argument is the ‘she was wearing a short skirt’ of the web. Ugh.” I agree with you, Ms. Dunham.

In cases where intimate photographs or videos is disseminated online without consent (nonconsensual pornography) and which do not involve celebrities, the public response is typically the same.

The difference is that when the victim is a celebrity, there is a blending of celebrity culture and misogynist culture. As Mary Anne Franks, University of Miami law professor and vice president of the Cyber Civil Rights Initiative explains, “This idea [exists] that women should always be blamed for what happened to them.” Carrie Goldberg, an attorney from Brooklyn, New York, agrees that “It’s a very common reaction to blame the victim. … The energy is so focused on victim blaming.”

Advice From Gervais

In this case, because the victims are celebrities, blame seems to be amplified. But celebrity or not, when an individual is a victim of an invasion of sexual privacy, the victim is treated much differently than when a different type of privacy is invaded. If someone is a victim of identity theft or their bank account number is stolen, the public generally does not cast blame for having engaged in online banking or shopping on the internet.

If these celebrities took photographs with the intent of keeping them private, then reposting, sharing or retweeting of these photographs is another invasion of privacy. This is not to say that viewing or even sending a photograph makes one criminally or punitively liable, but if the individual in the photograph did not consent to its distribution, engaging in this activity certainly advances an invasion of privacy.

An interesting comment was posted on Twitter by comedian Ricky Gervais, who said: “Celebrities, make it harder for hackers to get nude pics of you from your computer by not putting nude pics of yourself on your computer.” While the overall tone of the comment—blaming the victims instead of the hackers—is not the right approach, technically, Mr. Gervais’ advice isn’t all that bad.

To keep information truly safe, keep it offline. These days, information is right at our fingertips. We can post photographs in an instant and share them on the “cloud,” and we can and do utilize online photo and video storage. And then we are shocked when our information is leaked, hacked, or otherwise exposed. It seems like every month or so, some company announces that its information has been hacked or breached. Just last month, Community Health Systems faced a data breach where its network was compromised and non-medical patient identification data was transferred outside the United States. In December 2013, Target suffered a data breach that reportedly originated from the breach of an HVAC contractor’s access to the company’s data network.

What an individual or a couple wants to do in the privacy of their own home is their own business. You want to take intimate photographs, have at it. But you should consider keeping what is private, truly private. Keep your files out of the clouds and use private storage. Spend $50 on an external hard drive (even better if it is password-protected and encrypted), save your photographs on that drive, and store that drive in a fire-proof safe that is bolted to your closet floor.

What happens in the bedroom, keep it in the bedroom. And the best way to do that is to keep your files out of the cloud.