Stalking, unwanted exposure violates celebrity privacy rights

January 17, 2018 — by Kaylene Morrison and Anna Novoselov

As he sped away from relentless paparazzi in a Mercedes S-280, intoxicated chauffeur Henri Paul lost control and the vehicle crashed into a pillar under the Alma bridge in Paris. Paul and his passengers, Princess Diana of Wales and her boyfriend Dodi Fayed, died that night, Aug. 31, 1997, as a result of the collision.

Talking to Yahoo News UK, Trevor-Rees Jones, Diana’s bodyguard and the sole survivor of the crash, said that Fayed and Diana had arrived to stay at the Ritz Hotel, only to find it surrounded by paparazzi. They decided to flee to Fayed’s apartment a couple miles away near the Avenue des Champs-Elysse.

After the incident, investigations were launched to uncover whether the paparazzi’s persistence caused the crash. Charges of manslaughter were filed against nine photographers, but were later discarded in 2002.

In April 2008, an inquest jury from the Royal Courts of Justice in London ruled that “gross negligence” by both the photographers and Paul caused the manslaughter. The unremitting paparazzi had been the ultimate cause of the chase, clearly overstepping boundaries and invading the celebrities’ right to privacy.

When dissected and examined at its most basic level, the paparazzi’s motive for capturing photos of Diana and, consequently the deaths, resulted from society’s obsession with and unquenchable need for celebrity gossip. This demand creates the impetuous attitudes under which such tragedies are prone to occur.

Following the incident, a law was enacted by The Press Complaints Commission, a self-regulatory body in the UK that provides a code of conduct for those who cover celebrities, outlawing journalist harassment, unwanted telephoning, photographing and stalking. The California state government followed suit, passing a law that allowed individuals to sue photographers who trespassed on private property.

Unfortunately, the lack of clarity provided by current laws makes it easy for journalists and paparazzi to violate them. Loopholes have allowed for further mental and physical harm of prominent political figures and celebrities.

For instance, California law SB 606 which was passed in 2013, has virtually no effect on the behavior of paparazzi. The law is meant to protect the “child or ward of any other person because of that person’s employment,” or in other words, the children of celebrities, according to leginfo.legislature.ca.gov, from being excessively photographed. Anyone who “seriously alarms, annoys, torments, or terrorizes the child or ward, and that serves no legitimate purpose” can be fined and/or put in county jail.

The main problem is the phrase “serves no legitimate purpose.” Any paparazzo could easily argue that the publishing of photos for the entertainment of consumers is a “legitimate purpose.” Since the phrase is never defined, it can essentially be interpreted in favor of the offender.

This law and others like it have allowed for situations like the one actress Jennifer Lawrence experienced in 2014. According to The Independent, a hacker hacked into her iCloud account and leaked her nude photos onto the internet. Lawrence said it “was so unbelievably violating that you can’t even put it into words.”

“90210” actress Tori Spelling described a similarly jarring predicament to reporter Glenn Garwin for Stalkingalert.com. According to Spelling, she and her pregnant friend were on the way to the hospital when the paparazzi began to pursue them. After a four-hour chase, the photographers cornered them in an alley while Spelling’s friend went into premature labor.

“I got out and I explained the situation, and it was as if I wasn't even talking,” Spelling said. “They didn't care. They just wanted the shot.”  

Such photographs and other unwanted exposure can cause embarrassment and distress to public figures, who, as human beings, do not deserve to have their basic private rights violated at such intimate levels.

Granted, celebrity gossip has been shown to have positive effects on a very minimal level — people often bond with others over their shared interest of a celebrity.

However, the difference between a devoted fan and an obsessed stalker cannot be determined from black and white definitions, and it is far too easy for the former to slowly transition into the latter.

Explaining to livescience.com, James Houran, a psychologist at the consulting firm HVS Executive Search, describes this progression. According to him, there are three stages. First is the benign stage, in which the person harmlessly engages in celebrity gossip with others. After a while, the person begins to withdraw from their lives and engage in compulsive  behavior. Lastly, the person reaches what is known as the “borderline pathological” stage, upon which the person genuinely believes that they are involved in a close relationship with the celebrity.

Some may say that celebrities should simply stomach whatever is thrown at them because they essentially “signed up” to handle the endless paparazzi pursuits, degrading gossip and deranged stalkers when they became famous. This viewpoint, however, is completely illogical. Celebrities do not consent to paparazzi pursuit and stalking by crazed fans.

Fans and paparazzi often do not realize that they are overstepping boundaries or simply do not care, seeing celebrities as entertainment objects rather than living people.

This viewpoint has caused suffering to public figures, due to the invasive means of attaining information that fans relentlessly consume. Following the everyday, private activities of celebrities and publishing intimate gossip and photographs should not be tolerated. There should be a clear distinction between harmless coverage and inhumanely invasive behavior.

Princess Diana’s death at age of 36 should never have happened — but with improved legislation, celebrities will have adequate means to pursue those who hound them and deny them a safe and private life.