Hackers have no right to steal private images of celebrities [Commentary]

With my job as a cartoonist and columnist for one the nation's biggest newspapers comes a modicum of minor celebrity, but I can't imagine a big market for naked pictures of myself. This is not the case for true celebrities, such as Jennifer Lawrence, Kate Upton, Kirsten Dunst, Kim Kardashian and Rihanna, who, along with as many as 100 others, had private nude photos of themselves stolen from Apple's iCloud storage system and posted for public perusal online.

Whether the hackers who did this were out to make money or simply to prove their technological prowess, they caught the attention of the FBI, which is now investigating. There is talk of the thieves being charged with distributing child pornography because one series of stolen pictures featured U.S. Olympic gymnast McKayla Maroney who was under 18 when the photos were shot. The website took down their Ms. Maroney shots after they heard from her lawyer. The slightly older celebs, though, are apparently still fair game.


A representative for the Oscar-winning Ms. Lawrence called the hacking "a flagrant violation of privacy." Ms. Upton feels violated, as well, and is talking to lawyers. Sure, it's true the Sports Illustrated supermodel has exposed all but a few square inches of her body in that magazine's annual swimsuit issue, but, even for her, is there not a right to privacy?

Some of the weasels who run the websites that are displaying the images do not think so. Nik Richie, overseer of a site called "The Dirty," told Fox News he refuses to take down the photos. "These celebrities need to blame themselves for taking the pictures in the first place," he said.


That sentiment has been echoed by quite a few people, especially the trolls who lurk in media comment sections and by the hackers and hacker groupies who think breaking into private electronic files is a harmless, even noble, activity.

A person claiming to be the ringleader of the hack has asked supporters to lend him their financial support. "This is the result of several months of long and hard work by all involved," the person wrote in an online message. "We appreciate your donations and applaud your excitement."

Clearly -- if this is the real hacker -- he and his pals believe this photo raid was just a bit of good fun and the women who got their naughty bits exposed were asking for it because they are famous and beautiful. As for the rest of us non-famous, less beautiful people, I guess we are expected to just shut up and not protest too loudly, for fear that we might draw the attention of some self-righteous hacker who claims the right to delve into our private files.

And therein lies the problem. This photo hacking demonstrates that cyberspace continues to be a realm where pirates rule. The worst of them cruise for personal information -- credit card numbers, Social Security numbers, passwords -- that are used to steal our identities and our treasure. The hackers who absconded with the private photos of women celebrities are not as bad as that. Still, it is not an exaggeration to say they were engaging in a kind of existential identity theft.

If both celebrities and the rest of us have no place where we can safely be our private selves, then we can no longer live with autonomy. Instead, we are at the mercy of arrogant and brazen misfits who believe every secret is theirs to steal.

Two-time Pulitzer Prize winner David Horsey is a political commentator for the Los Angeles Times. Go to see more of his work.