Do Humans Have A 'Right To Record'?

I'm taking a course right now called "The Moralities of Everyday Life" — it's just for fun (because I'm a huge nerd) and it's free, and it officially started this Monday, so there is likely still time to also sign up to take it if you have interest.

I've been working ahead because I find philosophy (and morality, too, I guess) rather fascinating, which made me think extra hard this weekend when something happened on Facebook. (Are you ready for the Facebook drama?!)

The drama

An acquaintance of mine, who is a flight attendant, made a statement about some of the publicity that's emerged as a result of ... let's call it "unusual treatment of passengers" in the past few weeks.

If you missed the stories, here's a recap of what happened when United Airlines didn't get enough volunteers to vacate seats for crew members on a flight from Chicago (they had Chicago police drag a randomly selected passenger, who refused to leave his seat, from the plane), and then this woman was at the very least shouted at and possibly hit in the face with a stroller while she was holding a child on an American Airlines flight.

The acquaintance posted something about how the general public didn't know the full story, and that there are rules and regulations on airplanes for reasons that, in summary, have been written to protect our own safety. I agree with this.

Where we reach disagreement, and the question posited at the top of this post, was the point at which she said something along the lines of, "And those passengers who filmed these events were committing a crime; it's against regulations to take photographs or videos on an aircraft."

That very well might be true. But ...

What does morality have to say about this?

This is an unprecedented time in human history because (among other reasons) it's the only time in history when virtually everyone is walking around with a sophisticated recording device at hand.

If this had happened in 1987 or even 1997 (hard to believe, but bear with me), then there would have likely been no recorded evidence of the events.

Any decent investigation after the fact, of course, would have included interviews with both staff and passengers, but I frankly have no idea what that investigation process into possible airline misbehavior looks like. I think it's safe to say that it's probably conducted by the airline instead of, say, an independent third-party reviewer, and the airline is likely to consider testimony from its staff to be truer than testimony from passengers.

There certainly would not have been the public outrage surrounding either event that has manifested. Is that a good thing or a bad thing?

I don't know — honestly, I don't. It doesn't make me particularly happy or comfortable to see human beings vilified for honest mistakes.

But on the other hand, I think we can all agree that these were egregious examples of customer treatment. They don't make me feel particularly excited to fly again.

Flying is stressful for everybody involved, and that includes the staff and flight attendants. It's a dangerous activity that's been the target of terrorist plots, which isn't easy for the people who have to do it every day for a job. And I don't need to bore anybody who has ever flown with all of the reasons why you might find it stressful — especially if you're flying with infant twins.

Should that woman have been pushing a stroller onto an airliner? I think we can all agree "probably not" — she at least misheard what she was told, if not flat-out ignored it — and there has never been a time in the history of ever (or at least not in this decade) when a flight attendant would have been cool with a mom pushing a stroller onto a plane.

How that flight attendant reacted and what the other passengers did, though, is more interesting here, I think.

What good does banning photos and videos on flights do?

I am sure there was once a good reason for this. State secrets? Trade secrets? Thwarting international spies?

However: Can we agree that whatever those reasons were are probably over now?

It makes absolutely zero sense for an airline to allow smartphone or tablet use (even in airplane mode), let alone laptops, if they want to prevent photographs or videos from being taken in the cabin. That makes no sense whatsoever.

Also, I've seen a ton of pictures taken from inside airplanes, including one I posted on my own Instagram of a view from the window, where you can clearly see the airplane wing with the brand splashed all over it. I'm pretty sure I even tagged the company, as you do.

Nobody told me that photo was illegal or asked me to remove it. I've never seen a "cease and desist" on any of the numerous scenic window shots or selfies that have crossed my line of sight, so it seems to me like taking photos or video in an airplane cabin probably isn't the national security issue it once was, or else we'd be hearing about it more.

So, then, why would we only hear complaints that people are using their phones to document what happens inside the cabin ... when those people are documenting something the airline would rather they not see? (There's probably a ton of social proof value in those Instagram pics, after all!)

When should your camera phone be banned?

Here's a by-no-means comprehensive list of places where I think that phones, and camera phones, have little to no place:

  • Live theatrical performances
  • Movie theaters

And here's a by-no-means comprehensive list of places where I think your phone should certainly be on silent, and you should definitely leave to conduct a conversation:

  • Courtrooms
  • Formal events, like weddings and funerals
  • Libraries
  • Study areas

... Am I ridiculous that I really can't think of that many other places where it's hugely impolite or wrong to have your phone?

And is it crazy for airlines to expect that consumers will agree to their "don't record us, ever, even if we're doing something heinous" stipulation — or is it crazy for consumers to expect a private business to allow them to use those devices for recording purposes when they are on airline property and using airline services?

Opinions genuinely solicited. You all can probably guess mine, but in case it isn't obvious: I think if someone is being beaten or abused in front of you, any agreement you made to not record those events is moot, and you can ethically/morally (and probably should) document what's happening.