Svenson adds that because he didn’t reveal anyone’s face or name in the photos he hasn’t violated anyone’s privacy. If this argument sounds vaguely familiar, it’s because that’s the same argument used by the online tracking industry; we’ve gathered the data anonymously, so no harm no foul.
Except that it’s relatively trivial to work backwards to figure out who these people are. We know, for example, that the subjects of Svenson’s photos live in the Zinc Building in Tribeca. A simple Google search provides the address; a search of NYC tax records will show who owns every unit in that building. (That database is down for the moment, so I can’t tell you how specific that information gets.)
We also know Svenson’s address, thanks to the New York Post. So we can look up his tax records, see what floor he lives on, and what units would likely be visible from his windows. We can come up with a pretty good idea of exactly whom he was shooting – and if they have any digital footprint on Facebook, LinkedIn, or Google+, a lot more than that.
This is a photo of Svenson, taken by the Post. We don’t know what his hind quarters look like. That’s probably a good thing.
Why should anyone outside the benighted confines of Manhattan give a damn about this? Because it strikes at the heart of what’s wrong with the ongoing debate over privacy and what constitutes a “reasonable expectation” of same.
The courts have long held that privacy is relative, based on things like location and social norms. You expect to have more privacy in your home than in your car, for example. You expect more privacy in a locker room than you do on the beach.
This has very real implications. If you’re pulled over by a cop, he doesn’t need a warrant to search your car, the way he would if he wanted to search your home. He just needs a good excuse, and those are easy to come by.
Your boss can put surveillance cameras in the hallways of your office, but not the bathroom. If someone took photos of your bikini bod at the beach, you might be infuriated, but you wouldn’t be able to do much about it. If the same photographer took snaps of your bikini bod in a locker room, you’d be able to have him arrested. And if he posted those to a Web site, you’d probably be able to sue.