Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Rogue employees and Wayne Carey’s CCTV copyright

“Privacy” is an amorphous supposed “right”. I’d prefer to have the simpler right not to be (i) stolen from, or (ii) to have my image used without consent, express or implied. The latter, civil (c.f. criminal) right is admittedly vague in its parameters and enforceability. In any case, some recent precedents suggest that even out-and-out thieves can act with relative impunity, at least providing they have Channel 7 as an accomplice in the crime.

The security guard who sold Wayne Carey’s CCTV footage to Channel 7 for $20,000 may yet be charged, it is true. However, last year’s court sequel of the Centrelink employee who detailed Schapelle Corby’s (supposed) medical file on national TV – for which former Centrelink employee Natalie Pearson received a good behaviour bond* ("Media Watch" misleadingly said Pearson was “fined” and “punished”), and Channel 7 got off scot free – suggests that even if charges follow, the outcome for the security guard will be a slap on the wrist, at worst.

Whistleblowers – i.e. employees who leak information to the media for a genuine public benefit – have never faced a more daunting array of potential criminal and civil punishments. Greedy and/or amoral (Pearson wasn’t paid for her story) opportunist insiders, however, seem to slip through the legal net.

This is itself part of a larger problem – that the concept of a “position of trust” has more or less evaporated, a casualty of economic fundamentalism. Wayne Carey, as owner or renter of his apartment, paid for (presumably through the building’s body corporate) a CCTV service on private property, but this seems to be of little consequence, when push/prurience comes to shove/broadcast. If a Centrelink client’s (supposed) medical file can be broadcast without sanction on the broadcaster (and not in connection with any allegation of welfare fraud, aka whistleblowing), then anything goes, evidently.

Without employees being held to be in positions of trust, legal distortions arise. Last year, revelations about Melbourne bus drivers pocketing customers’ cash, so giving them a discounted ride but not a valid ticket, were summed up by public transport Minister Lynne Kosky as a fare evasion problem. Kosky’s department, meanwhile was “examining whether it can charge some drivers with criminal offences” (same URL). Public servants stonewalling the police, in other words. Yup, it turns out that it’s bus passengers – or nobody, otherwise – who are primarily charged with the responsibility of stopping thieving scum. Admittedly, fare part-evasion (by discount) by passengers is also a form of theft, but as an individual criminal act it is objectively trifling compared to the systemic theft of tens of thousands of dollars annually by bus-driver employees from their employers and Victorian taxpayers. A legal and political system that cannot recognise this is useless.

One anomalous employee role apparently yet remains as a position of trust – that of equities and derivatives trader. With a clear mandate to make a lot of money for other people, while never losing too much in the course of so doing, such traders are part sober trustee and part Santa Claus, to their adult charges/beneficiaries. Call me old-fashioned, but I see an intrinsic conflict between these two roles. Appropriately perversely, the criminal law seems ever eager to throw the book at rogue traders, despite the usual minimal or zero financial, or other ulterior, gain they personally accrue.

A security guard exploiting a person who pays their wages? Just one of life’s modern miscellaneous bug-bears. Ditto, it appears, for Centrelink employees turning on their clients and for thieving bus drivers. But Santa Claus stuffing up his gift orders – now that’s a crime deserving of the law’s full majesty.

* “Ex-Centrelink worker slammed over Corby leak” by Greg Stolz news.com.au 10 October 2007 and “The Diary” by Amanda Meade, Australian 11 October 2007.

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