A private recording of racist remarks by the owner of the Los Angeles Clippers, Donald Sterling, in a telephone conversation was released last week. Among other comments, Sterling said to his former mistress, a black Mexican woman known as V. Stiviano:
"It bothers me a lot that you want to broadcast that you're associating with black people. Do you have to? ... You can sleep with [black people]. You can bring them in, you can do whatever you want. The little I ask you is not to promote it on that ... and not to bring them to my games. I'm just saying, in your lousy f---ing Instagrams, you don't have to have yourself with, walking with black people. ... Don't put him [Magic] on an Instagram for the world to have to see so they have to call me. And don't bring him to my games."
That these comments are racist and therefore contemptible goes without saying. But the incident raises other issues that are not as clear as the racism in Sterling's comments, yet they are at least as important.
One is the increasing release -- and acceptability -- of private recordings and videos. Take the video released last month of a married congressman engaged in a passionate kiss with a married member of his staff. This was a security surveillance video. Isn't the only reason for the very existence of surveillance cameras to catch criminals? Why didn't the release of such a video shock the media and the country?
I have consistently defended these ubiquitous video cameras against those who argue that they violate our privacy. I am convinced that they are indispensable to apprehending violent criminals, as they were in the case of the Boston Marathon terrorists. But, I have repeatedly added, if these cameras are ever used for personal or political reasons to ruin people's lives or careers, the perpetrators of the release must be punished severely, including prison terms. And if this abuse becomes widespread, the cameras must be taken down.
The fact that whoever released the surveillance video of the congressman has not been apprehended is a threat to us all. Yet this aspect of the incident has not even been discussed. All we heard was gloating over catching a conservative congressman in an act of infidelity.
Similarly, recordings of private speech must also remain private unless they pose a danger to others. When the media report private conversations that pose no threat of violence, they encourage more and more people to record and release private conversations. That, far more than the NSA trolling of billions of phone calls in order to identify terrorists, poses a real threat to privacy. Where are the civil liberties groups and libertarians on this issue?