Privacy is dead: Time to name and shame professional privacy invaders

Code breakers

From Index on Censorship

There is confusion at the heart of British debates about privacy. We tend to speak of journalists, of their role, their rights, their responsibilities and very often their lack of restraint and how it should be addressed. This article highlights how this is misleading, we need to recognize two different groups. One group is the actual journalists, as traditionally understood, and the other is those people whose principal professional activity is invading other people’s privacy for the purpose of publication. Journalism is demonstrably valuable to society. It tells us what is new, important and interesting in public life, it holds authority to account, it promotes informed debate, it entertains and enlightens. Invading people’s privacy for the purpose of publication does not do good, though it may make money. In that industry, deception and payment for information are routine, not exceptional.

The distinction between the groups helps to clarify the debate by separating those participants who have no real interest in ethical conduct or the public interest from those who do. The more distance that opens up between ethical journalism and professional intrusion into privacy, the more the public will understand what it is getting and what it can trust. And that is in the public interest.


Journalists are being tarnished by the activities of professional privacy invaders. It is time they were renamed and shamed, argues Brian Cathcart

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Article details
Brian Cathcart (2011). Code breakers Index on Censorship, 40 (2) DOI: 10.1177/0306422011410013

This article is from the June 2011 issue of Index on Censorship that explores ‘privacy’ and offers an impressive collection of articles and interviews, including:

  • Ibrahim Eissa – Mubarak’s nemesis
  • David Eady and Joshua Rozenberg – Balancing acts
  • Whitney Phillips – Meet the trolls
  • Eric King – Age of insecurity

Click here  to view the full table of contents.

Personal subscribers can now access Index on Censorship online for only £18! Single copies are also now available for purchase. Please visit for full purchasing options.

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