2012 and the Shrinking Private Space: 7 Slip-Ups That Didn't Stay Secret

Smartphones and social media made it easier than ever to capture and publicize what were often intended to be very private moments

By Emily Feldman
|  Friday, Dec 28, 2012  |  Updated 9:54 PM EDT
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2012's Most Powerful Photos

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The various scandals that played out in the news over the last 12 months have served as sharp reminders that privacy is a fast-fading realm. 
 
Again and again, seasoned public figures made the same miscalculation and assumed—rightly or wrongly—that certain spaces and conditions offered the privacy they needed to carry out their dalliances, to frankly opine or let their guards down in a way they may not have, had they known their actions or words would eventually morph into trending topics on Twitter.

 
While Anthony Weiner-style morality tales are surely nothing new, this year's presidential race heaped added scrutiny on elected officials and those vying for office, as evolving technology made it easier to capture and share any witnessed indiscretions. (Take Politwoops, for example, a product of 2012 that publishes the deleted—deleted!— tweets from politicians.) 
 
A jump in social media membership also ensured that any intriguing private tidbit, leaked, hacked or carelessly volunteered, would make it around the world in an instant. (Twitter alone added 1 million new accounts a day in 2012, according to one report.)
 
Below, find the top seven news events of 2012 that should inspire even private citizens to be a bit more cautious before they speak, act, write, type, send, do or share.
 
Mitt Romney’s “47 Percent” Remarks: Private Fundraising Dinner
The former presidential nominee was at a private fundraising event when he decided to share his frank assessment of which voters he’d have to woo to win the White House. A hidden camera that caught Romney telling his donors that nearly half of all voters “are dependent upon government, [and] believe that they are victims,” became an indelible blemish, if not a tipping point, in the candidate’s campaign. It also inspired discussion about whether it was reasonable for politicians to have an expectation of privacy at private fundraising events—a question without a clear-cut answer.
 
Prince Harry’s Naked Billiards Night: Private Hotel Suite
Though Prince Harry was in a private hotel suite when he decided to play a game of strip billiards, a secretly snapped photo of the naked prince bear-hugging an equally naked woman made it onto a gossip website and promptly around the world. This incident too was a reminder of the ubiquity of camera phones and the punishing records they may leave.
 
Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, Topless Photos: Private Villa
Harry's sister-in-law Kate also became the subject of a 2012 photo scandal, though hers—vigorously beat back by Palace attorneys—was in some ways the more shocking one. Unlike Prince Harry, who invited apparently camera-wielding guests of questionable character to witness his naked escapades, Kate was sunbathing at a private villa far enough from the nearest public road that a powerful zoom lens was needed to take the shots.
 
Kristen Stewart Cheating Scandal: (Really Not-So-Private Place)
A few photographs snapped in broad daylight dealt a devastating blow to "Twilight" star Kristen Stewart and director Rupert Sanders—not to mention their significant others, who learned of their partners' infidelity at about the same time the rest of the country did.
 
Obama’s Hot Mic: A Whisper In March, President Obama leaned forward and whispered into the ear of Russia’s then-president Dmitry Medvedev, but millions of people heard what he said. Obama's microphone, still recording, caught him assuring Medvedev that he would have “more flexibility” to negotiate issues like missile defense once the election was over. The press published, the GOP pounced and the White House was forced to publicly address a remark never intended to reach so many ears.
 
Phone Hacking Scandal: Private Phone Calls, Correspondence, Data, Etc. Though the phone hacking scandal arguably belongs to 2011 or perhaps the last decade, the Leveson inquiry, which marched to a close in 2012, recounted all the various devices that were hacked, all the data illegally obtained, all the private moments-turned-tabloid fodder, and served as a forceful reminder about the vulnerabilities of technology and limits of law.

Petraeus, Paula Broadwell Scandal, et al.: Private Emails
It was reportedly an FBI investigation that led authorities to the email account of Paula Broadwell, where they discovered her affair with former CIA director Gen. David Petraeus. Some reports indicated that the pair took extra caution to cover their tracks, never sending their messages, but instead leaving them in draft form for the other to find. The discovery of the emails prompted Petraues, one of the most decorated and respected military figures of his generation, to step down from his position at the CIA and admit to an affair. It also jammed into the spotlight the ease with which federal authorities can track private email accounts. Chris Soghoian, a senior policy analyst at the American Civil Liberties Union and privacy researcher, told NBC News days after the scandal broke that "the lesson for the rest of us here is you have to go through a lot of steps to maintain anonymity, and you only have to screw up once."

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