Well, maybe. As film industry blog Movie Crunch points out, we’ll have to wait until Sunday to find out for sure.

But there’s more to this story than just getting an early peek at the winners. And we’re not talking about the devastating effect such a leak could have on the annual billion-dollar Oscars betting book in Las Vegas (and, unofficially, elsewhere), either.

It has to do with privacy and secrecy and whether recent technological developments are forcing us to consider doing some old, familiar things in different ways.

Cases in point…

Google recently won a civil suit lodged by a Pennsylvania couple who complained that Google’s Street Views photography vans had illegally imaged their home, on a properly-signed private street in a ‘gated’ enclave. The plaintiffs claimed that Google’s posting of the photos in the Street Views system reduced the value of their home and caused them mental suffering.

Google, however, successfully maintained it has a right to photograph ‘private’ homes and streets, arguing that privacy, as traditionally defined, no longer exists in the age of satellite imagery.

A few weeks ago, when the Canadian Parliament resumed sitting after the national general election last fall, a small but significant piece of history was made: For the first time, the Federal Budget was not released privately to the media in a ‘lock-up’ prior to the reading of the document in the House of Commons. The government just handed out copies at the appointed hour.

But that came as little surprise to many. After all, government ministers had already leaked fairly accurate ‘indications’ of many of the budget’s provisions — with unofficial permission — for their own purposes. And other aspects of the Budget had been leaked through more-traditional channels (i.e.- plain brown envelopes, or their digital equivalents, delivered anonymously to reporters). No more ‘secret’ Budget.

Now, there’s an alleged leak of the 2008 Academy Awards winners, something else that’s never happened before.

All it takes to swipe a document such as the single sheet listing the winners allegedly circulated confidentially to officers of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS) is one visitor or untrustworthy employee with a ‘standard’ multi-megapixel phone cam, left alone in one recipient’s office for a few seconds when the list is left lying on the desk.

Some serious questions raised…

Among the questions these recent developments raise:

Even with the many statutory protections we enjoy, designed to safeguard our fundamental right to privacy — should we realistically expect our privacy to be maintained on a practical level in the Internet age?

Is it time to throw in the towel, as the Canadian government did on the ‘secret budget’, and admit that some traditional systems  just don’t work — or even make sense — in our current 21st century context?

Will those who seek to keep secrets resort to countermeasures? They might, for instance, prepare multiple versions of documents such as the Oscar winners list, one of which is genuine and the others fake. They could then intentionally leak one or more of the fake lists to confuse the market. If the real list was subsequently leaked, no one would know which list is legit — effectively keeping the secret intact while ‘hiding’ the information in plain sight. We see the potential for the development of a whole new industry based intentional information obfuscation.

There are no real answers to these questions as yet. We present them here in hopes that everyone who prizes his or her privacy in the Google age will think about them and start formulating their own conclusions.

Leave a Reply