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Privacy Digest 10.07 Aug.28/01

PRIVACY Forum Digest     Tuesday, 28 August 2001     Volume 10 : Issue 07

                (<A HREF="http://www.vortex.com/privacy/priv.10.07">http://www.vortex.com/privacy/priv.10.07</A>)

            Moderated by Lauren Weinstein (<A HREF="mailto:lauren@vortex.com">lauren@vortex.com</A>)         
              Vortex Technology, Woodland Hills, CA, U.S.A.
                         <A HREF="http://www.vortex.com">http://www.vortex.com</A> 
                       ===== PRIVACY FORUM =====              

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                           and Telos Systems.
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          PRIVACY Forum in any manner, and their support does not
           imply agreement on their part with nor responsibility   
        for any materials posted on or related to the PRIVACY Forum.

        Levy, Condit, and Privacy: The Tragedy is Ours -- The Enemy is Us
           (Lauren Weinstein; PRIVACY Forum Moderator)

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     Quote for the day:

        "All I want out of life is a 30 share and a 20 rating."

                        --  Diana Christensen (Faye Dunaway)
                            "Network" (MGM-UA; 1976)


Date:    Tue, 28 Aug 2001 18:20:07 PDT
From:    <A HREF="mailto:lauren@vortex.com">lauren@vortex.com</A> (Lauren Weinstein; PRIVACY Forum Moderator)
Subject: Levy, Condit, and Privacy: The Tragedy is Ours -- The Enemy is Us

Greetings.  When I started the PRIVACY Forum nearly a decade ago, I knew
that it would require the discussion of concepts that were in some cases
highly unpopular.  Privacy is often at odds with other less abstract facets
of our society.  For example, there are aspects of privacy that are
sometimes viewed as an obstacle to maximally efficient policing, but as a
society we accept some loss of efficiency in law enforcement as the cost of
maintaining a reasonable balance between the ragged endpoints of anarchy and
a police state.

Important causes also may be well exemplified by individuals who themselves
would be considered unpopular or outcasts by most of society.  The American
Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has a number of times found itself in the
position of supporting, as a matter of principle and law, individuals who I
dare say most members of the group found to be abhorrent.  But if we accept
that such principles are important regardless of the individual
personalities involved, we have no choice but to illuminate the facts.

And so we come to Congressman Gary Condit, a man whom, from what I know of
him at this point, I have considerable disdain.  I don't even much care for
his politics.  Convenient police leaks have informed the world that this
long-married man had an affair with 24-year-old Chandra Levy.  We know that
Levy has vanished.  We also know that, apparently, Condit was not anxious to
specifically admit an intimate relationship with Levy.  The Washington D.C.
police have not classified Levy's disappearance as a crime -- they say they
have no evidence of a murder.  They also state that since there's no
specific crime classification there are no suspects, and that Condit is but
one of many people that they've interviewed.  The focus on Condit, they say,
has been on the part of the media, not the police.

And we also know that...  well, actually... that about ends the basic
"facts" of the case itself that we know as such.  For all the thousands of
hours of talking heads on television and radio discussing this matter, for
all the millions of words of print, the picture can be summed up in about 15
seconds and one short paragraph.

It's a terrible event when persons are missing and frequently assumed dead.
A friend of mine had one of her own close friends, a homeowner with a steady
job, simply drop off the face of the Earth a few years ago -- no sign of him
since.  But that person wasn't involved with a Congressman, so there was no
media interest, and little concern on the part of the police.

There's been plenty of interest in Gary Condit.  In terms of time and effort
expended, far more energy has been "lavished" on him by the media than on
finding Levy herself.  But any attention to the story has helped maintain it
in the headlines, and one can perhaps forgive the Levy family and their
advisors for doing everything practical to keep their particular case, for
as long as possible, from being treated with the same low (or zero) priority
as most missing-person cases.  Condit's presence has provided the "hook"
necessary to keep the media spotlight burning brightly.

Much has been made of Gary Condit's less than stellar performance in his
recent prime-time TV network interview.  Commentators have condemned him for
"not looking honest."  Psychologists leap before the cameras to proclaim his
body language "suspect."  But I can tell you from personal experience that
sit-down television interviews are by their very nature among the most
artificial environments imaginable.  People's ability to be comfortable in
such situations varies very widely, and their appearance cannot be relied
upon to tell us anything useful about the "honesty" of the interviewee, even
in a non-adversarial situation.

In this case though, the keyword was indeed adversarial.  The major network
interviewer/interrogator, in addition to asking Condit if he was a murderer
in a case that hasn't even been declared a crime, proceeded to spend about
half of the interview's thirty minutes on basically one question -- in
essence: "C'mon, admit it Gary, you had sex with her didn't ya?  Didn't
ya?"  Condit said he'd made mistakes, and everybody watching knew darn well
what he meant.  But the interviewer kept hammering away at the same
issue.  One can only imagine what the explicit followup questions might
have been if he had answered in the affirmative.

It's not the sort of question that anybody should be forced to answer
publicly in the media.  I found the interviewer's repeated asking of the
question in different forms to be disgusting and an invasion of privacy of
the most public sort possible.  In the wake of the interview, the majority
of the U.S. population polled said they thought Condit had something to do
with Levy's disappearance.  Their evidence?  They have none of course -- many
people implicitly assume that they can just look at someone else and
determine in their gut if that person is guilty of something, of anything.

Offering to give the interview in the first place was a mistake for Condit.
But he's seemingly done a number of rather stupid things over the course of
this case, though none of them have been shown to be demonstrably criminal
at this point, just unintelligent and in some cases it would seem
emotionally cold.  He threw away a watch case from an unrelated
relationship.  He (we are told -- but did he really?) suggested to some
people that they should lie about other affairs and that they didn't need to
talk to the police or the FBI. 

We can't know for sure about those other affairs (did they really happen?) or
supposed requests for lies -- they're classic "he-said, she-said" situations.
We certainly can't simply assume that all such accusations are true.  The
"affidavit" at the center of one such storm reportedly had a notation at the
top asking the recipient to make any changes they felt to be necessary.  If
that's the case then it was hardly being offered as a fait accompli.

But we do know that it's not a crime to suggest that you don't have to talk
to law enforcement if you don't want to, because it's true -- there is <B>no</B>
such requirement.  This comes as something of a surprise to many people
(most of whom probably wouldn't recognize the U.S. Bill of Rights if their
lives depended on it).  <B>Should</B> people talk to law enforcement to help in
such cases?  Usually yes, of course, but the distinction between "should"
and "must" is an important one in our democracy.

This drama has its bit players as well.  A gardener who knew the Levy family
claimed his daughter had an affair with Condit.  Unlikely in the extreme,
the media still squeezed the story for all it was worth, until the FBI
called it fraud and the accuser admitted he had lied.  ("The gardener was
paid off to recant his story!" the talk radio show guests suggest

No matter what facts we do know, the media circus grows ever more extreme,
feeding on itself.  Talk shows expound endless theories: "If Condit was
incompetent to kill Levy by himself or wasn't around at the right times, he
must have hired 'the mob' to do it -- or maybe a relative."  Psychics crawl
out of the woodwork.  "She's at the bottom of the Potomac." "No, she's
hidden in New Jersey."  

When word of a tip (just one among hundreds of false "leads") that Levy was
buried under a parking lot at a military base leaked out, media surrounded
the place and buzzed it with helicopters.  And (I kid you not) true believers
pour over tapes of Condit's interviews, playing them backwards for clues or
admissions that they believe the unconscious mind leaves audible in reversed

We hear that Levy told her family that Condit had agreed during their
five-month relationship that Levy could bear his child, that he'd leave his
wife, that Levy told her never to carry ID when with him... all sorts of
things.  Many commentators simply accept all of these second-hand accounts
as facts, but we don't know if any of them are true.  Reportedly even one of
Levy's relatives considered some of Chandra's statements in this regard to
have been possibly a bit fanciful.

It's been suggested that Condit "trapped" Levy, a younger woman.  While it
can certainly be argued that Condit as the older and married party should
bear the bulk of the responsibility for the relationship, I would assert
that both of them should have known better, and that both of them willingly
and knowingly demeaned Condit's wife.  Levy was not a child.  She knew what
she was doing, she certainly felt free to discuss the existence of such a
relationship with others, and this was reportedly not her first experience
with a much older man.  None of this excuses Condit's behavior by any means,
but there was plenty of guilt to go around.  Even among some of the persons
who heard about the relationship while it was in progress, there seems in
some cases to have been perhaps more interest in learning details than 
in strongly condemning the relationship itself.  

So we end where we began -- with a thoroughly disgusting situation made all
the worse through a media frenzy that has taken on aspects of a Salem
witch-hunt.  Meanwhile, the sad truth is that Chandra Levy remains missing,
and her family, like the families of so many other missing persons, still
grieves.  Meanwhile, the Condit family is being destroyed by the death of a
thousand cuts.  

That Gary Condit played a crucial role in setting the stage for this entire
fiasco, through his willing relationship with Levy, is obvious and
undeniable.  Condit should have been more forthcoming with police during his
initial interviews about the nature of his relationship with Levy.  However,
whether his unwillingness to admit to more than "close friendship" with Levy
during those early interviews really made a substantive difference in the
investigation of her disappearance is problematic at best.  In any case,
these are matters between Condit and the police and between the police and
the Levy family.  I would argue that the relationship itself was despicable,
but I don't consider it to be any of the public's business, to be aired on
network television alongside programs featuring contestants being dropped
into rat pits and other similar entertainments.

I don't like Gary Condit.  I hope Chandra Levy is alive, or at the very
least that her family achieves some closure of their grief.  Ethics,
privacy, and any number of other fundamental concepts of humanity have been
savaged all around by this ongoing spectacle.  The parasitic attachment to
the salacious elements and sensationalized speculations regarding this
story, by large segments of the media, their audiences, and their readers,
has helped to turn a tragedy into a travesty.  It has debased us all.

Lauren Weinstein
<A HREF="mailto:lauren@pfir.org">lauren@pfir.org</A> or <A HREF="mailto:lauren@vortex.com">lauren@vortex.com</A> or <A HREF="mailto:lauren@privacyforum.org">lauren@privacyforum.org</A>
Co-Founder, PFIR: People For Internet Responsibility - <A HREF="http://www.pfir.org">http://www.pfir.org</A>
Moderator, PRIVACY Forum - <A HREF="http://www.vortex.com">http://www.vortex.com</A>
Member, ACM Committee on Computers and Public Policy
"Reality Reset" Columns - <A HREF="http://www.vortex.com/reality">http://www.vortex.com/reality</A>


End of PRIVACY Forum Digest 10.07

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