Saturday, May 02, 2009

Grieving family faces more trama

A recent story in the news has caught my attention. There is this family whose daughter died in a traffic accident a couple years ago here in California. As standard practice, the CHP had photographed the accident, including a shot of the young woman's nearly decapitated body. Unfortunately for that woman's family, the CHP officers leaked the gruesome photo some days later, and they ended up all over the internet. As reported, "Even Nikki's grieving father couldn't avoid the pictures. Days after the crash, the real estate developer opened an e-mail he believed was a property listing and found instead a grisly photo of his daughter's body." Ever since, the family has been fighting to get the photos removed, first by going after hosting sites, then by going after the CHP itself. All attempts have failed, thankfully.

Now, I do sympathize with the family for their lose. However, the photographs taken by the CHP are a matter of public record. The CHP actually doesn't have any right to hide those photos from any citizen who requests them. Nor can the law prevent their unlimited disclosure. We live in a free society where the government cannot be allowed to keep information from the public (except for matters of National Security). There are pluses and minus to this, but if we wish to keep our society free, we must prevent the government from hiding any information.

Additionally, this is not a matter of privacy at all. The woman died in an auto accident, which is a public incident. Privacy does not hold any priority in public events. First, I (and every citizen) have the right to photograph anything I wish in public (again, except or matters of National Security). The CHP actually had a responsibility to photograph the accident scene. They actually would've been negligent in their jobs had they not.

So, although privacy is an important right, it is a right that is limited to private acts. With the exception of creative works (protected by copyright), any public incident is a matter that is in the realm of public domain. Side note, in the course of an investigation, any record of evidence collected (photographs of the scene, written reports, etc) by the CHP or any public service is public record.

No comments: