Stories With Masks

Privacy issues are surely the hottest topic at the moment with the Murdoch hacking scandal, but have you caught up with the People Staring at Computers debate?

It seems that an enterprising customer visiting an Apple store was able to set up a web cam to record the faces of other customers as they peered at the computer on display.

MaskNeedless to say these customers were unaware that they were being snapped, so when these shots later began playing back to other customers, who were surprised to see their own images morph into a running sequence of those who previously looked at the screen, there was at first an ugly moment of confusion followed by a quick decision to quit the screen.

No-one took it really seriously, it was after all a bit of a joke, except of course for Apple, who complained enough to get the Secret Service involved. The sad hacker, one Kyle McDonald, was rudely awakened one morning with a warrant to search his premises. After informing him that they had a warrant to search for evidence that he had violated the federal Computer Fraud and Abuse Act they promptly left with his laptop.

Now McDonald’s lawyer says:“There are no limitations or conditions when you use those computers. He was using that which was available to him or to anyone else. He didn’t violate the law, and he certainly had no intention to violate it.”

But the debate rages on about whether or not this was an invasion of privacy

A production with this magnitude of public interest was too hot to be ignored and it was, of course, displayed on various sites that were eventually told to cease and desist by Apple. The main host of the “Staring at Computers” project was the Web site of a group of artists, Free Art & Technology, and it, too, received the letter from Apple demanding that it be removed. “I don’t want to unduly put Kyle in any more trouble than he already is in, and it didn’t seem like the time to fight a free speech issue that we don’t have the money to fight anyway,” said Evan Roth, who administers the site.

Forced to censor the project, Mr. Roth came up with an ingenious response.

He kept the pictures from the stores on the Web site — but posted a mask on each one. The face on all the masks: Steve Jobs.

So there’s a lesson to be learned here for artist’s like yourself who are planning to write about personal experience or stories that involve others. If you can’t afford a really good lawyer either be careful what you say or mask the faces of your characters by changing their names and other relevant details.
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