Privacy is hard to comprehend for public officials and media

Opinion section
Valley News - Opinion

A memorial viewing turned a planned work-at-home day into a day for running errands, and I had lunch in a restaurant dining room. Since I was dining indoors, I had to provide my name and phone number to comply with county health regulations.

Many people consider that requirement to be an invasion of privacy. Some people are avoiding dining indoors while others are giving false names and phone numbers. I am not a supporter of governmental invasion of privacy, but I provided my actual name and home phone number.

It was the first time I had to provide my name and phone number, but it was not the first time I had dined indoors at a restaurant since the health requirement was imposed. I had previously eaten indoors at a restaurant near my home. I didn’t need to give my name, not because the restaurant was skirting the regulation, but because everybody who works there knows who I am. My bill listed “Joe” rather than “Table X,” so they have my name and I’m also Facebook friends with several of the staff so they can reach me.

After I gave my name and phone number to the restaurant whose staff doesn’t know me, I didn’t feel like I had compromised my privacy. In the days of the three dot newspaper column (from Herb Caen of the San Francisco Chronicler), if a prominent person dined at a restaurant and the columnist learned about it the person’s dining presence was printed in the newspaper for the public to know. It was perceived as an honor to be prominent enough to be mentioned in the three dot column.

My thought after my name and phone number was placed on the restaurant list wasn’t that I had given up my privacy but rather that they now knew who I am and that others would know that I dined at that restaurant that day. It was like being mentioned in a three dot column. It was like I had achieved a level of prominence worthy to have my dining activities released to the public.

As a media member, I am a public figure and have a community level of celebrity. Since I am in the print media, many people know my name even if they don’t know me when they see me, and since I deal with people who make the news, those in positions of prominence know who I am when I am present. I take people knowing who I am for granted. In the case of the restaurant near my home, the staff and most of the regular patrons know who I am. I had frequented a San Diego restaurant before the shutdown, and the staff knew me. What others might consider a loss of privacy, I consider public familiarity with me.

It explains a difference between the public and the media, especially the television media where reporters are recognized and elected officials or other political leaders. Media members and public officials lack the comprehension of privacy the general public has.

Other celebrities at various levels also forego privacy for public prominence. It includes Mark Zuckerberg, who has been criticized for Facebook actions compromising personal privacy. Other compromises of personal privacy are the initiative of Facebook users themselves. I am not bothered by people knowing where I dined, but any Facebook posts revealing that information are posted by friends taking a group photo. I limit my Facebook posts to achievements or other non-routine activities. Dining is a routine activity, so I do not post where I dine. The irony is that those who dine at a restaurant on a less routine basis are more likely to post where they are eating.

Being recognized while dining is part of being prominent. Media members and political leaders are used to people knowing where they dine. If where they dine is made public, that’s part of their routine activities. What the general public considers privacy, the media and the public officials consider oblivion. Personal privacy is not an understandable concept to the media or to those in government, which explains the lack of respect for privacy among those notables.

Joe Naiman can be reached by email at