[Twitter rarely affords me the opportunity for a full discussion. I prevent the following in clarification of a recent tweet.]
A recent promoted ad campaign called Purple Purse on Twitter caught my attention. Notably, the ad uses a purported hidden camera footage of individuals finding a purse left in a cab. In the purse, the phone rings and the cab rider, after routing through the purse and then the phone uncover evidence of domestic (financial) abuse.
First off, I want to say that domestic abuse is a hideous and far too common crime in the world today. I can’t count the number of times I’ve personally witnessed it and been essentially helpless to do anything. Two recent incidents come to light. Once, while sitting on the patio (alone) at a restaurant at lunch, I witnessed a young man following a woman (within inches). While not physically accosting her, he was certainly intimidating her and speaking to her in a manner to exert control over her. I couldn’t exactly tell what he was saying but based on their interaction they did not appear to be strangers.
The second incident took place one night while staying at a friend’s apartment. I could hear upstairs, the male occupant verbally and physically assaulting his girlfriend. I was set to call the police but my friends said she had done so on several occasions with no positive outcome. I withheld calling, principally out of concern for my friend as it was clear, hers was the only apartment which could hear the altercation. I didn’t want my friend hurt based on my calling the police on this obviously violent individual.
On another occasion, I did call the police years ago when I heard my pregnant neighbor being beaten by her then boyfriend. He left before they arrived, but they later arrested him.
Privacy has long been a shield to protect domestic abusers against government invasions. In general, the right to make familial decisions and be free from government interference, is a hallmark of federal privacy law. It’s the basis of the Roe v. Wade decision and Griswold v. Connecticut whereupon the right to privacy is a right against government intrusion in the sanctity of family decisions. Unfortunately, in a historically patriarchal society, the same argument supported a man’s right to discipline his wife. That view, fortunately, has fallen out of favor, at least within the law in the U.S.
Financial dependence goes hand in hand with domestic abuse. Controlling the purse strings is one of the strongest ways that domestic abusers control their victims. So it’s perfectly appropriate for the group behind Purple Purse to focus on “financial” domestic abuse as a means of uncovering deeper problems. This is one of the reasons that the financial industry must find ways to support “financial privacy” not just in confidentiality of financial transactions but censorship resistant financial tools. It isn’t just the government that is prone to censor people’s financial choices.
On it’s face, it appears that Purple Purse is encouraging people to invade one type of privacy (confidentiality) to discover another (financial privacy), or at the least offset a social evil (“domestic abuse”). One could make the argument, that if a victim needed to covertly disclose her predicament, without alerting her abuser, though this would be a mechanism to do so. Most people with an interest in their own privacy lock their phone, even with a simple 4 digit pin code. In the words of courts, locking one’s phone is a manifestation of a subjective expectation of privacy in the phone. Locking one’s phone is something which an outsider can view as an affirmative act which says “Hey this is private, keep out.” To further the legal analysis, locking one’s phone is a manifestation which society is willing to objectively recognize.
I’m not making the argument that one might not have a subjective expectation of privacy in a lost, but unlocked phone, but certainly the case is stronger if the phone is locked. A left unlocked phone could be, as the Purple Purse might be suggesting, an effort by a victim to seek help.