Battle of Ideas: Is anything private anymore?


Tiffany Jenkins, David Vincent, Tom Slater, Jodie Ginsberg and Susan Edwards at the Battle of Ideas festival in November 2019. Credit: Michael Gregory

Privacy, especially in the digital age, is less a matter of isolation and more one of of interpersonal relationships. This was the general consensus of panellists at From Domestics to Banter: Is Anything Private Anymore?, a debate at the Battle of Ideas festival on 2 November at the Barbican, London.

The panel, chaired by Spiked deputy editor Tom Slater, included Index on Censorship CEO Jodie Ginsberg: “The question for me is not so much one of privacy; it then becomes a question of trust,” Ginsberg said. “How do we form a contract of trust with those with whom we are communicating?”

“The capacity to understand another on the basis of such limited verbal communication is both a consequence of privacy and a reflection of its value,” said author and historian David Vincent. For that communication to be effective, trust must be established between those involved where privacy is maintained, he added.

For Vincent, one of the first casualties of our eroding privacy is also the most personal — intimacy. He made the case for the preservation of privacy by arguing for the preservation of the private person.

“There is an unevenness in the notion of privacy and freedom,” said University of Buckingham professor Susan Edwards, responding to a concern by panellists around the increasing power of the state and the spurious nature of the claims made by governments that more surveillance is necessary.

Edwards said: “We’ve all said in various ways that particular narratives unlock the power of the state to behave in particular ways.” She added that initiatives launched in the name of protecting the public from terrorism or children from abuse are easy to justify because their stated objectives are so obviously marketable, making them popular with both corporations and states. The scope of their surveillance can then be extended to include those citizens who pose no threat to public safety.

For author Tiffany Jenkins, one of the most worrying trends is what she described as a “collective shrug of the shoulders”. Mass use of CCTV, for example, was introduced in the UK to little resistance.

Edwards was concerned by how despite the charges against Facebook, where British political consulting firm  Cambridge Analytica harvested personal data from millions of Facebook profiles without user consent, the platform maintains an enormous user base of some one billion people. So long as the effects of disappearing privacy are not material, people may be keen to ignore it, or disassociate themselves from convoluted government programmes or online data mining operations that do not materially affect their lives, she said.

According to Ginsberg: “We are responsible for that — how we measure what we’re prepared to share and give up for privacy.” She added that “it’s incumbent upon us to be demanding better of institutions that are engaged in, perhaps, trying to breach our privacy”.

Issues surrounding privacy are so pervasive that they touch many aspects of our daily lives, said Ginsberg, and each of us must be vigilant and recognise when our privacy is being violated. By challenging those violations of trust, we can better secure our privacy.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_basic_grid post_type=”post” max_items=”4″ element_width=”6″ grid_id=”vc_gid:1573039732017-1b9e3edf-3b64-7″ taxonomies=”269″][/vc_column][/vc_row]

Is anything private any more?


What right, if any, do those in positions of power have to privacy? Do insights into people’s private lives help us to judge their character? Can intrusions into people’s privacy be justified in the name of the ‘public good’? Do threats to privacy increase the likelihood of people self-censoring? When social media and reality TV constantly encourage us to share our most intimate experiences and thoughts, have we forgotten what it means to be private? 

Part of the Battle of Ideas Festival
Buy day tickets here


When: Saturday November 2, 10am—11:30am
Where: Auditorium 2, Barbican, London EC2Y 8BN


Index on Censorship at the Battle of Ideas

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_row_inner][vc_column_inner][vc_custom_heading text=”Join Index on Censorship CEO Jodie Ginsberg at this year’s Battle of Ideas. She’ll be participating in two sessions exploring the cultural legacy of 1968 and the trivialisation of legislation.” use_theme_fonts=”yes”][/vc_column_inner][/vc_row_inner][vc_custom_heading text=”Creating new crimes: The trivialisation of legislation? | When: Saturday, 13 October, 2:00-3:30pm | Where: Barbican Centre, Cinema 3 ” font_container=”tag:h3|text_align:left” use_theme_fonts=”yes”][vc_column_text]

Despite the sclerosis that Brexit has allegedly created in getting on with the job of government, there seems to be no slowdown in the creation of new laws to tackle perceived social ills. For example, there are proposed new laws to ban or regulate smacking, nuisance calls, corrosive substances, drones and laser pointers. Michael Gove has been particularly prolific at Defra, with the latest legislative innovations being crackdowns on electric-shock training collars for dogs and ‘cruel’ puppy farms.Another example is the review which is to take place into whether misogynistic conduct should be treated as a hate crime, following Labour MP Stella Creasy’s call to change the law. The review was itself announced during a debate on the Voyeurism Bill, which proposed to criminalise ‘upskirting’ – the taking of unsolicited pictures under someone’s clothing. Nor it it just in Westminster that this expansion of legal controls is taking place. Councils’ use of public spaces protection orders (PSPOs) is making previously legal, if sometimes anti-social, behaviour subject to criminal proceedings, like rough sleeping, busking and dog-walking in parks.Yet this proliferation of new offences sits alongside recent figures showing that more traditional crimes are being policed less than ever. Police forces are closing investigations without identifying a suspect in 80 per cent of household burglaries, 75 per cent of reported vehicle thefts and more than 50 per cent of shoplifting cases. The Guardian reports that the Metropolitan Police are more frequently dropping investigations into serious crimes such as sexual offences, violent attacks and arson within hours of them being reported. The UK’s largest force ‘screened out’ 34,164 crimes on the day they were reported in 2017, compared to 13,019 the year before, blaming increased demand and reduced officer numbers.But the failure of the authorities to investigate serious crimes properly – like the activities of rape gangs in the north of England – while devoting resources to scouring Twitter for offensive words, leafleting about ‘hate crimes’ and dispersing and arresting the homeless, suggests that law enforcement has become politicised. As the old refrain goes, shouldn’t the police be out there catching real criminals? Is the law being misused?Tellingly, Ms Creasy praised the government’s misogyny law review as sending a hugely positive signal: ‘We have just sent a message to every young woman in this country that we are on their side.’ But is ‘sending a message’ really the proper role for legislation? And what are the consequences? For example, in England and Wales, 71 per cent of prison inmates are serving time for non-violent offences, with 47 per cent of prisoners serving sentences of less than six months. Will new laws mean even more people being incarcerated for relatively trivial crimes?

What is the proper role of the law today? Are we creating too many new laws? With limited police resources, are such laws even enforceable? Are we devoting too many resources to politically fashionable laws at the expense of tackling traditional crime – and traditional freedoms?

[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row content_placement=”top”][vc_column width=”1/5″][vc_single_image image=”102802″ img_size=”full” add_caption=”yes”][/vc_column][vc_column width=”1/5″][vc_single_image image=”102221″ img_size=”full” add_caption=”yes”][/vc_column][vc_column width=”1/5″][vc_single_image image=”102803″ img_size=”full” add_caption=”yes”][/vc_column][vc_column width=”1/5″][vc_single_image image=”102804″ img_size=”full” add_caption=”yes”][/vc_column][vc_column width=”1/5″][vc_single_image image=”102805″ img_size=”full” add_caption=”yes”][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_row_inner content_placement=”top”][vc_column_inner width=”1/4″][vc_custom_heading text=”Chair” font_container=”tag:h3|text_align:left” use_theme_fonts=”yes”][vc_single_image image=”102806″ img_size=”full” add_caption=”yes”][/vc_column_inner][vc_column_inner width=”3/4″][vc_single_image image=”102226″ img_size=”full” onclick=”custom_link” img_link_target=”_blank” link=””][/vc_column_inner][/vc_row_inner][vc_custom_heading text=”The cultural legacy of 1968 | When: Sunday, 14 October 4-5:15pm | Where: Barbican Centre, Cinema 3″ font_container=”tag:h3|text_align:left” use_theme_fonts=”yes”][vc_column_text]‘Pouvoir à l’Imagination’ – ‘Power to the Imagination’ – declared graffiti daubed on walls in Paris in May 1968. And while students and workers occupied universities and factories, and protesters hurled pavés at police, street art and impromptu theatrical performances became just as much a part of the political moment. In the UK and US, too, art and music helped pull protest into mainstream consciousness, with anti-war protests and demands for civil rights or sexual freedom accompanied by a bourgeoning musical soundtrack. Even Daniel ‘Danny the Red’ Cohn-Bendit, a central figure of the Paris Spring, claims that the 1960s revolt ‘was spurred by the idea of a counterculture, which was mainly carried via rock music’. As protests gathered pace from Rio to Washington to Berlin to Tokyo, conceptual art, films, poetry and plays were used to explore and disseminate new ideas. Jean-Luc Godard, then a Maoist, wanted his films to change the world. Why did culture play such a prominent role in the political turmoil of the late 1960s? And 50 years on, can art and music still forge social and political change?

Recently we’ve seen the mainstream popularity of ‘real time’ political theatre, artist-led drives to challenge Brexit, and campaigns such as #Grime4Corbyn. The 2018 Turner Prize shortlist was described as the most political to date, tackling human rights abuses, identity politics, colonialism and stop-and-search policies. Does this mean the radical cultural legacy of the 1960s is as alive as ever? Or has it simply become institutionalised, even neutered? After all, the Turner Prize is brought to us by those pillars of the establishment, Tate and BBC, and the fiftieth anniversary of Paris 1968 was marked by Christian Dior and Gucci launching celebratory collections and a ’68-themed ad campaign.

For some critics, brands and big money sponsorship are creating a generation of artists that play it safe rather than challenging conventional political worldviews and making us think. Others, such as writer Sohrab Ahmari, say a growing politicisation in art, especially around identity politics, is detracting from aesthetic concerns and values. At the Cannes Film Festival 2018, as actresses protested against gender-based discrimination in the industry, Godard remarked controversially that today ‘filming is boring, actors are too involved in politics’.

Godard’s generation used new techniques and technologies to circumvent traditional cultural custodians and gatekeepers. Is it too easy for artists today to claim the mantle of radicalism while conforming to well-established political and aesthetic expectations? Should we worry more that genuine dissent is increasingly locked out of the arts? Or was political art always a bit of a pose, concealing a lack of aesthetic substance?[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row content_placement=”top”][vc_column width=”1/4″][vc_single_image image=”102222″ img_size=”full” add_caption=”yes”][/vc_column][vc_column width=”1/4″][vc_single_image image=”102221″ img_size=”full” add_caption=”yes”][/vc_column][vc_column width=”1/4″][vc_single_image image=”102223″ img_size=”full” add_caption=”yes”][/vc_column][vc_column width=”1/4″][vc_single_image image=”102220″ img_size=”full” add_caption=”yes”][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_row_inner content_placement=”top”][vc_column_inner width=”1/4″][vc_custom_heading text=”Chair” font_container=”tag:h3|text_align:left” use_theme_fonts=”yes”][vc_single_image image=”102219″ img_size=”full” add_caption=”yes”][/vc_column_inner][vc_column_inner width=”3/4″][vc_single_image image=”102226″ img_size=”full” onclick=”custom_link” img_link_target=”_blank” link=””][/vc_column_inner][/vc_row_inner][/vc_column][/vc_row]

Ceri Thomas: Trust and trustworthiness

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In 1976 All The President’s Men was released, barely two years after investigative journalism had claimed the biggest scalp on the planet, Richard Nixon’s. The film won four Academy Awards, and the American public awarded a gong to the news media: the highest trust rating journalists would ever enjoy. Seventy two per cent of people told Gallup they trusted the media a great deal or a fair amount. The corresponding figure is now 32%.

That, in a nutshell, is how the case is framed. A noble profession won the trust of the public on a hard road through Vietnam, Watergate and Thalidomide – and blew it by taking short cuts through self-regard, sloppiness and other people’s voicemails.

Does the case stack up? Some of it may, but here’s the rub. It rests on the belief that trust is a reliable guide to good journalism, and there’s precious little evidence that’s the case. The relationship between the trustworthiness of the media and the trust people invest in it is a very uncertain one.

At times in the past, the British public have trusted almost recklessly. Before the Second World War, when the BBC connived with the government to keep Winston Churchill and his anti-appeasement views off air, trust in the BBC was stratospherically high, the trustworthiness of the BBC somewhat lower. The dramatic collapse in trust, post-2000, had a lot to do with globalisation and wage stagnation and very little to do with new insights into media behaviour. Those came later.

Now the public hoards trust, and hands out little parcels to friends and “trusted sources” rather than the mainstream media. I worked at the BBC for 25 years and I saw its journalism become more trustworthy in most important respects: more accurate, more accountable, more open. Its reward? Higher trust ratings than any other news organisation in this country, but still a decline.

In this hostile terrain there are new and troubling factors, not least the arrival on the scene of media outfits, often aligned with populist political causes, which see trust as a zero-sum game. Part of their purpose, and part of the populist playbook, is to bleed trust from the institutions that came before. Often, what people worry about in that polarised environment is the erosion of a common baseline of facts. How do we have a democratic debate when we can’t even agree what facts we’re debating? But the worries shouldn’t obscure a genuine problem: what came before, politically and journalistically, was too narrow. The consensus excluded too many people.

To any part of the media that cares about being trusted, I’d say this: forget about a 72% trust rating, you’ll never see it again because the world has changed too much. In fact, forget about trust. The only thing you can control is trustworthiness; focus on that. Focus on integrity, accuracy, transparency, diversity, breadth. Trust will come and go, trustworthiness is forever.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_custom_heading text=”Battle of Ideas 2017″ use_theme_fonts=”yes” link=”|||”][vc_separator color=”black”][vc_column_text]A weekend of thought-provoking public debate taking place on 28 and 29 October at the Barbican Centre. Join the main debates or satellite events.[/vc_column_text][vc_row_inner][vc_column_inner width=”1/3″][vc_column_text]Political activism and protest today
Recent years have seen something of a revitalisation of political protests and marches, but just what is protest historically and today?

[/vc_column_text][/vc_column_inner][vc_column_inner width=”1/3″][vc_column_text]Do YOU trust the news media?
How can we know whether journalism, particularly reporting on complex issues or assessing notoriously difficult ideas such as risk, is accurate?[/vc_column_text][/vc_column_inner][vc_column_inner width=”1/3″][vc_column_text]Censorship and identity: Free speech for you but not for me?
Is identity politics the new tool of censorship and, if so, how should we respond?[/vc_column_text][/vc_column_inner][/vc_row_inner][/vc_column][/vc_row]