Tuesday, August 4 2020


The thin line between privacy and publicity

Update: August, 19/2018 - 09:00
Illustration by Trịnh Lập
Viet Nam News

Khánh Dương

Not long ago, romantic comedy Cô Ba Sài Gòn (The Tailor) was leaked online by a teenage boy who livestreamed the film in the cinema.

His act was caught by a CCTV camera installed in the theatre.

More recently, discussions about surveillance cameras in cinemas have exploded on online forums. A private moment between two cinema-goers was captured by a surveillance camera, before screenshots from the footage went viral on social media.

The images showed a couple allegedly having sex in a ‘sweetbox’ booth at a CGV theatre, one of the most popular cinema chains in Việt Nam and the largest multiplex cinema chain in South Korea. The girl’s face was uncensored and easily identifiable. Other audience members around them were attentively looking at the screen.

The ‘sweetbox’ booth, advertised by CGV as an ideal seat for couples, has a high backrest for privacy and no armrest in the middle. The ‘sweetboxes’ are placed at the back of the theatre away from the normal seats. Of course, tickets for the special booth are more costly than normal ones, with a price of between VNĐ90,000-140,000 (US$4-6) for each person. 

After the incident, a CGV representative explained that the couple’s public display of affection was spotted by an employee watching the camera footage to find a customer’s lost wallet. The employee then posted the screengrabs online and was soon fired.

“We are being watched! I go to the cinema to watch other people on film, not to be filmed myself.” A friend of mine, a regular cinemagoer, was not happy to find out that CCTV cameras had been installed in CGV cinemas without customers being informed.

“Cameras installed in the cinemas are to monitor security issues or record unexpected incidents that need outside involvement. We only use camera footage for these purposes, absolutely not for others,” the representative affirmed.

In this case, however, CCTV footage was used for the wrong purpose. The viral clip prompted curious Facebook users to find the identity and personal information of the couple. A private moment can now be watched and become a topic of discussion, while the couple in question has their personal privacy infringed.

The couple has the right to sue CGV for this violation of privacy. The public and media outlets which have followed the case are trying to find a suitable level of punishment.

According to lawyer Lê Anh Thơm from the Hà Nội Bar Association, someone who posts images of other people illegally or without their permission are subject to an administrative penalty of VNĐ10-20 million ($435-870).

Criminal charges might be imposed for illegally using information on computer and communication networks. The highest penalty could reach up to three years in prison.

In a more serious situation, if the sensitive images of customers are determined by authorised agencies to be pornography, CGV staff could face fines of between VNĐ10-100 million ($435-4,350) and sentences of up to three years in prison for publishing pornography.

In other countries, CCTV cameras in cinemas have also sparked debates.

In 2008, an article published in the UK’s The Telegraph reported CCTV cameras in nine Odeon cinemas, the country’s largest cinema chain.

An Odeon spokesperson said the cameras had resulted in a dramatic fall in disruptive incidents and the camera system and subsequent footage is solely for the safety and security of guests. Additionally, the footage recorded is automatically erased after 31 days. However, the audience’s response to the surveillance was not positive. They called it a “spy” camera.

"I’m not happy about it. Isn’t that why going to the cinema is so fun? So you can have a kiss and a cuddle in the back row. Not only that but it is a complete infringement of my civil liberties," said one of filmgoer whose comments were mentioned in the article.

For me, I am in favour of installing CCTV cameras in public spaces to ensure safety and security, and for unexpected events that need investigation.

In the Cô Ba Sài Gòn case, the camera fulfilled its function of identifying violations. But audiences should at least be made aware of the cameras and their purpose. They should be told what the footage is used for.

Among hundreds of comments on Facebook, I spotted many criticizing the actions of the couple.

Before a film begins, audience members are always reminded of cinema rules including not taking photos, smoking or making noise. Kissing, hugging and other amorous behaviour are not mentioned. But polite viewers know that having sexual intercourse on the cinema seat is beyond the limit, in other words, is completely unacceptable in a public place. When children witness this behaviour, what will they think of the cinema? I’m afraid it’s not only an impression about the film they love.

You can’t say “I spend money on tickets, so I have the right to do whatever I want.”

The couple has so far kept silent. But they have become the centre of attention over the past few days, with a lot of public criticism for their “uncivilised act”.

The CGV employee could have dealt with the issue in a smarter way, for example, by reporting to their manager so they could make a decision on how to handle the couple. A smarter response might not have resulted in someone’s privacy being violated and, more importantly, put less pressure on the couple of being shamed in public.

I don’t know if it is too late or not, or if there’s a way to make up for the mistake. After the incident, CGV put up signs in front of each auditorium saying: “We have CCTV in the theatre”.

But one thing I know for sure, whether cameras are installed in cinemas or not, first and foremost, people should behave in a polite and civilised way. The line between privacy and publicity is very thin. VNS

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