Read another response by Alan Soble, Alexander George, Nicholas D. Smith
Read another response about Ethics, Law, Sex
Hello, I would like to ask a question about ethics involved when nudity is permitted in public places. I live in Sydney, Australia. At one of the most popular beaches here (which hosts tens of thousands of people per day and is freely available to anyone who wishes to go there), a man was arrested and fined $500. This was punishment because he had been on the beach with a camera, surreptitiously photographing women who were lying on the sand, with no tops on. He was discreet such that almost none knew at the time that he had photographed them - after they apprehended him, police went around with his camera, identifying people and approaching them with the images in hand. Many people using this beach choose to sunbathe disrobed, of their own free will. The man admitted that his actions were intended to further his own sexual gratification. Although I think the man's behaviour was in poor taste, using others as mere means to his own selfish ends, on consideration I cannot see why it should be held illegal or punishable. Firstly, anything that is visible from any public place is obviously visible to anyone who happens to be in that public space, and that includes busses, houses, trees and people who choose to disrobe. I have never heard of a law that prohibits anyone seeing whatever it is they see from a public place. Secondly, if it is permissible for passers-by to see a person on Bondi Beach who has chosen to disrobe, then ought any emotional or hormonal response stimulated in the viewer be prohibited, as long as the person so exited does not act in a way that harms others? If it were so, then surely every person who has ever been sexually exited by the sight of a stranger's disrobed body, and then silently lusted about it, has acted in a prohibited way. Thirdly, how using a camera to 'fix' an image of what one can see, and preserving this image, significantly different to seeing it? Even if we assumed the man intended to use the photographs for commercial gain, then how is this different to him taking a photo of Sydney Harbour, including in it the thousands of buildings lining it, and using this photograph for commercial gain? What about images of all manner of things available on Google Earth? Fourthly, shouldn't the onus for privacy lie with the people who have chosen to disrobe? If they do not wish people to photograph their bodies, should they not keep them robed while they are in a public space?

As a matter of prudence, I am inclined to agree with the arguments of the questioner--if one does not want others to photograph one's exposed breasts (or other body parts), one should keep them covered in public.

On the other hand, I don't think that the issue is quite as simple as this. The man who was arrested admitted that he used the photos for his own sexual gratification. But what if he was posting them on a website--perhaps for profit? I think there are somewhat thorny issues here, and do think that the most important ones have to do with legal protections of personal privacy, and where the lines get drawn on this issue. Does appearing in public mean that anyone can photograph me for any purpose whatsoever? That does seem a bit much to me! Here is another example--what do you think of the idea of a pedophile photographing children swimming or running around on a beach in the nude (as one can see in lots of places in the world)? No problem here? I guess I would caution the questioner that the obviously prudent reply that he or she provides tends to mask some important issues about whether our privacy should still be protected from various forms of intrusion even when we are in public--and I guess my own intuitions on this are somewhat mixed. Although I agree they should not be as aggressively protected as when we are in private, I don't think it becomes "open season" when we are in public, either, no matter what we are or are not wearing.

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