American Liberty and Princess Diana's Death
It happened twelve years ago today. A pretty normal day in the world actually. Bill Clinton had just started his second term and Ms. Lewinski was still an unknown. Saddam Hussein was very much alive and telling the U.N. weapons inspectors to get lost. Twelve years ago we could still climb to the top of the World Trade Center and take in the breathtaking view of NYC.
Princess Diana had a new boyfriend and for her it was likely just another evening out filled with security and photographers as she tried to enjoy her life after Buckingham Palace.
Her death that day changed the world in many ways. An innocence was lost. It caused us all to stop and watch together a princess being laid to rest while her young princes looked on in numb disbelief. Many of us mourned for the death of someone we felt was so alive. And after the mourning came anger - anger over the circumstances of her death. The attention focused on how she died; why she died. And when the dust settled it became clear that there was a culprit who had a principle role in the mayhem that killed her: the paparazzi.
Emotions ran high, voices rang loud and for the next year or two great effort and determination was put forth in legislative bodies in various parts of the world to “fix” the paparazzi problem. In California, a little over a year after Diana’s death, Governor Wilson signed into law the Anti-Paparazzi Act making photographers liable for invasion of privacy when an individual trespasses on private property with the intent to capture any type of visual image or sound recording. Ultimately, however, this law did virtually nothing to prevent the paparazzi’ pursuit of celebrities.
Six years later, in 2005, Governor Schwarzenegger strengthened this same law by stiffening the fines for any photographer assaulting someone in the act of getting a photo (Arnold was once run off the road by a group of photographs trying to get a photo), but even this new, stronger version of the law has had little affect.
Continually, the main obstacle to creating any real reform is the argument that anything that curtails the paparazzi restricts the press and violates the Constitution. But we can’t forget our country was founded on the principles of freedom and personal liberty. Intrusion into the private affairs of citizens by surveillance limits a person's freedom and personal liberty, in that it makes the person self-conscious to the point where they limit their liberty of action due to constant public gaze. This effect is further compounded by the advent of mass media and new technologies. Not only are people exposed to the gaze of those around them, but every action can be exposed to hundreds of millions, if not billions, of people worldwide in an instant. This concept was simply unfathomable to those who wrote the Constitution. Being harassed and invaded by packs of photographers does not comport with the notions of freedom that were espoused by the writers of the Constitution, or the concepts of liberty that precipitated a violent Revolutionary War. Thus, unrestrained surveillance upon individuals engaged in private activities is contrary to the very concepts of personal liberty and freedom that Americans fought for more than two centuries ago.
For a nation such as ours that tries to be the beacon of human rights and that denounces violations in this arena by other nations, to lag behind other countries in protecting the privacy of its citizens is a discouraging irony. We could take a lesson from the European Union who balances individual rights equally with the freedom of the press. In May a London court issued a restraining order against the paparazzi for Amy Winehouse. Lily Allen was issued the same by a London court in March and Sienna Miller received one in November of last year. Each of these ladies is now able to leave their homes without a pack of paparazzi surrounding them.
Maybe Princess Diana, if she were alive today, could get her own restraining order against the paparazzi in England. But not here. We still allow the paparazzi to swarm, harass and endanger citizens. We haven’t stopped the dangerous car chases that frequently take place with paparazzi in cars ignoring all driving laws running red lights and stop signs in pursuit of the “best” shot. It is just a matter of time before someone else is killed. Paparazzi only chase people we care about and so the next death will likely be someone we admire. But it will be even worse if we’re watching the burial a young mother and her infant who were crossing the street at the wrong time.
History is an excellent teacher. Legislation could have prevented Princess Diana’s death in 1997. The UK took action and fixed their laws. Here in the U.S. its time we did the same before some other bright shining light is taken from us before their time.