I received the following email:
I'm not sure if this is your type of thing, but I would welcome your opinion on it. Do you know of anyone within libertarian circles who has written on this subject?
From the summary of the article:
Children could SUE their parents in future for a breach of privacy if they upload photographs of them on to Facebook: They will face a year in prison and a £35,000 fine
French parents who upload images of their children could be sued by them
Face jail if convicted of publicising details of private lives without consent
Adults who sue their parents in later life could also receive compensation
French Gendarmerie said: 'Stop posting pictures of your kids on Facebook'
I have done a bit of a search online to see if I find anything written by other libertarians on this topic. I find nothing directly on point. So I offer my thoughts....
I begin by offering…my thoughts are rudimentary on this, not well-formed. One reason I decided to answer via the blog was to solicit a discussion, maybe some links to thoughts developed by others.
It is the right to privacy that is claimed by the French government to be violated. Do I (and therefore a child) have a right to privacy? I say no. However, I do have a right via contract to decide if, when, and how certain aspects of my life are shared. My bank account number and password would fall into such a category. My picture? Let’s see….
I guess a good starting point would be…what does libertarian theory offer on the subject of posting pictures about adults? I believe some libertarians will suggest that you can’t own your image (if someone “takes” your picture, it doesn’t prevent you from also taking your own picture).
The concept could be considered relative to the position regarding intellectual property – if someone copies your work, well you still have your work. Or maybe it is similar to the idea of reputation – you do not own your reputation.
Intellectual property and reputation…I am not convinced on either of these topics – that via libertarian theory one can “own” neither. I have written a decent amount about the former (although I have not done so in some time as the conversation by some turned toxic), very little if any about the latter.
I won’t get into these two here beyond saying I lean toward the view that one can own intellectual property (of course, not as defended by the state) and one does own his reputation (not to imply using force to get others to believe as I do). By the same token, it seems to me that an adult can prevent or disallow another from doing something or another with his image.
There was an interesting recent case: Michael Jordan sued a grocery store for using his image in an advertisement without permission. His claim was that his image has value, and it would lose that value if anyone could use it without his (Jordan’s) permission. He won his suit; the conclusion is consistent with my view of the NAP.
With that said, inherently this also means that an adult can allow his image to be posted on Facebook or elsewhere.
So, what about children? I guess in theory, this is also to be considered for children – to allow or disallow the posting of the child’s image is the individual child’s choice…in theory. Yet, after all, they are children – not fully formed in thought or body, not capable of facing the consequences of their own choices (even choices that if made by an adult would fully comport with libertarian theory).
Others make choices for children. The “others” could be the parents or it could be adult relatives or it could be strangers. But there will always be others making choices for children – it is inherent in the nature of being a child.
Libertarian theory doesn’t offer a clean answer to the “who.” Which adult should make the choice – the parent, the relative, a stranger?
I have written enough on the idea of governance – governance will come from somewhere. It seems clear to me that the lowest institution from which governance will come – given that humans are human and also children are children – is the family. It is therefore clear to me that decisions regarding children should be made by the parents (or another adult properly charged with guardianship).
It is further clear to me that steps taken by the state to diminish the role of the family only further the role of the state. It is on this pillar that my gut tells me I might lean for an answer to the issue posed by the anonymous emailer. The state – in this case the French government – is offering one more avenue to tear down the governance offered by the family structure, thus furthering the necessity for governance by the state.
Now, nothing in libertarian theory makes the family sacrosanct. But in my view, even the most anarcho-libertarian society will require governance institutions if it is to survive, let alone thrive. As the concept of “family” is both within human nature and inherently a governance institution, it seems to me a natural source for the lowest level of governance. I find “family” as necessary in this regard (please note, I did not define what constitutes “family”).
Does this mean anything goes? Others may never intervene in an action taken by a parent toward a child? No, not “anything goes”; yes, others may intervene. Some areas are black and white, some others are gray. Who should decide? In a libertarian world, there will be other governance institutions – relatives and religious institutions, for example.
But in some cases, life might just be miserable for some children. Libertarian theory will not turn earth into heaven. Libertarian theory will not turn sinners into saints. Libertarian theory will not make every adult a good parent. (Of course, there is no other political theory that will achieve any of this either.)
So, where does all of this leave me on this question?
I begin with the recognition that I have built a foundation with material that is not accepted in all corners of the libertarian world. I purposely do not go further into these as a) I have written extensively regarding some of these elsewhere, and b) to do so will take this post far beyond its intent.
With that said:
I believe an individual has rights to his image.
I believe children do not have the blessings or benefits of full access to the non-aggression principle – it is inherent in their nature as children. I therefore believe that adults will – inherently must – make choices for children on many issues.
I believe the best adults to make such a choice are the parents (or any adult(s) properly charged with the raising and guardianship of a child) – and I believe this to offer the best means by which to keep governance at the lowest institutional level.
Are there issues which might cause those outside of the family to intervene in the upbringing of a child – fully consistent with both the NAP and my worldview? Certainly.
But this issue? My conclusion: posting pictures on the internet doesn’t seem to me to be one of these issues. If those close to the family believe otherwise, they are free to discuss this with the parents. They are not justified to intervene by force.
How much of my conclusion is influenced by culture? If I lived in a society that generally believes that the act of taking a picture steals one’s soul or spirit – and I therefore believed the same – I would almost certainly answer differently, certainly regarding a child’s picture (if an adult in such a society wants to lose his soul, that’s his business). We cannot escape culture when addressing many questions about the application of the NAP. The term “aggression” does not define itself.
With all of this said, I welcome comments and links.