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15 May 2018

Citywealth: What advice would you give Meghan Markle on protecting her privacy/reputation? She’s now one of the most wanted people in the public eye so must have a thousand paparazzi tracking her?

Magnus Boyd: It is very easy for individuals in Meghan Markle’s position to feel overwhelmed and give up on protecting their privacy and reputation – to feel that it’s an unwinnable battle which is not the case. That feeling can come from both the volume of people tracking her and because we are living in a climate where an invidious presumption is increasingly holding sway which is that only people with something to hide need to care about privacy. By extension, those who seek out privacy, must be, by definition, bad people. This is summed up in the phrase ‘If I don’t have anything to hide, why should I be concerned about privacy?’.

However, privacy is a personal value, and how much or how little privacy we each need should be an informed choice for each individual. There are three reasons why.

  1. It doesn’t matter if you have “nothing to hide”. Privacy is a fundamental right intrinsically linked to personal autonomy and dignity that doesn’t require any justification for its protection and is not pegged automatically to your profile – even if you are Meghan Markle.

  2. There is an inherent link between privacy and reputation. Protecting your reputation requires both a defence against falsehoods but also the protection of private truths. Privacy enables people to manage how they are judged by others and, by extension, their opportunities, friendships and social boundaries. We all need reserved places of privacy to withdraw to, free of public scrutiny, even if your role is devoted to serving the public as Meghan Markle’s will become. The preservation of privacy engenders trust which, in turn, promotes candour, interaction and social cohesion.

  3. The loss of privacy leads to a loss of freedom. The protection of privacy underpins the freedom of expression which is vital to a free and democratic society. Knowing that you are being surveilled and appreciating the volume of information that is accessible about you can exert a deep wave of self-censorship.

The journalist Glenn Greenwald described mass surveillance as a, “prison in the mind that is a much more subtle though much more effective means of fostering compliance with social norms or with social orthodoxy, much more effective than brute force could ever be." Increasingly, a person’s self-determination will come down to their ability to control the flows of information about them that are online as well as publicly available.

Meghan Markle has an obligation to herself as well as both sides of her family to manage and protect her personal information and that of her family; no matter how insurmountable such a challenge looks at the moment. That can only begin with an appreciation of the value of her privacy.

Citywealth: Do famous people have any agreements with paparazzi to protect their reputation? If so, how does it work?

Magnus Boyd: No. Not in my experience. It would be akin to entering into an auction over your reputation. The risk would be that in times of acute media attention the paparazzi would simply sell what they knew to the highest bidder and you would find yourself in a bidding war.

Citywealth: Did anything change after the tragic death of princess Diana? Are there new rules to protect the privacy of those in the public eye?

Magnus Boyd: Despite the public’s support of her brother Charles Spencer’s assertion that the media were to blame for his sister’s death, in which he described his sister as “the most hunted person of the modern age”, nothing really changed in the five to six years following her death.

The traditional media tended to position itself as more responsible in its conduct than the paparazzi; conveniently ignoring the fact that they provided the market in which the paparazzi operated. The law of privacy developed from 2002 and the Naomi Campbell judgment which went to the House of Lords in 2004 (which Schillings helped spearhead incidentally), established the legal tools for those in the public eye to protect their privacy. That’s when things began to change.

Citywealth: Do papers really care? I.e. are fines or legal problems serious enough to stop them from chasing famous people down if they know this will bring them massive profit?

Magnus Boyd: Generally the papers, their editors and journalists do care – they take their obligations seriously. However, there remain instances where the commercial imperative overtakes responsible journalism and the courts have to intervene

Citywealth: What else do UHNWs need to know about protecting their reputation?

Magnus Boyd: That if reputation is what someone thinks of you, then privacy is what they know about you.

There are no shortcuts to effective personal privacy planning. If you use loop holes to protect your privacy now, you’re only storing up reputation issues in the future. Personal privacy planning should be proactive and preventative. The best way to prevent invasions of privacy is to anticipate where such breaches might come from.

Effective protection of personal information begins with an audit. It is only when you can see what is available about you that you can assess the risks and what shifts may be necessary to secure the level of privacy that you require. It is important to recognise that your requirement will not be static. It ebbs and flows according to your profile, levels of activity, acquisitions, your circle of friends and family, your business relationships and competitors.

Excerpts of Magnus’ Q&A were first published by Citywealth on 12 April 2018. Click here to access the article.

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About the Author

Magnus Boyd

Partner

Magnus protects individual and corporate reputations by helping clients to manage unwanted media attention. He also advises on information security and helps clients manage the risks to reputation that arise in the event of data loss.

646 934 6219