I usually send up a red flag when I see the word “Balance” in any discussion of privacy rights, as privacy usually loses when it’s balanced against something else. Two items in the media this week relate to balancing the privacy rights of victims against the public’s need to know or right to know. In one case, the balance tipped against victim privacy. In the second case, it tipped for it.
The first piece is a commentary by Michael Den Tandt, “Why don’t dead victims have same right to privacy?” and relates to the case in the Canadian court and media where a former commander of Canada’s largest Air Force base pleaded guilty to horrible crimes that included the torture and strangulation of two women, kidnapping and sexual assaults, and scores of voyeuristic break-ins where he took photos of himself in victims’ clothes.
Colonel Russell Williams pleaded guilty to over 80 charges after giving a full confession to law enforcement. The confession was made available to the public and was even uploaded to YouTube. But did the public really need to know all the details? Do the murdered women have any right to privacy with respect to what happened to them in their last moments of life? He writes:
Some will blame the media for reporting the details and publishing the images. That’s a fair criticism. It’s also a broad brush. Many media outlets across Canada showed restraint and tact in how they published this material.
So did the journalists who reported live from the courtroom, by and large. As horrific as the details were, a great deal was deliberately left out. Much of it was, literally, unspeakable.
Still, it was too much. And we need to ask ourselves this question: Why do the dead in such cases, people from whom everything was stolen, have no right to privacy?
It may be legal to make all the details known. But it does not seem just or fair that the entire world is privy to the final horrifying moments of the victims of the worst kinds of crimes.
Nor is it right that their loved ones must be put through this public ordeal.
Read his entire commentary in the Kingston Whig-Standard. The decision to retain video and photographs that Russell Williams took of his crimes and victims has raised strong concerns and objections from the lawyer representing the families of two of the victims.
I realize that some might argue that the dead have no right to privacy, but I’m on record as thinking that private figures do have some right even after death, as I’ve discussed on PHIprivacy.net a number of times.
In contrast to the case in Canada, a recent decision in the Connecticut courts placed victim privacy over public right to know or need to know. The Associated Press reports that the state Supreme Court ruled that the state need not disclose everyone who’s a registered sex offender if listing them on a public web site or making their names available is likely to lead to identification of their victims.
The court’s unanimous ruling, which will be released officially on Nov. 2, overturns a lower court in a dispute over Connecticut’s “restricted” registry, a sex-offender list available only to police and courts. (See the opinion and concurrence.)
By law, sex offenders can get on that list instead of the public registry if a judge decides they are not dangerous to others and naming them would identify their victims.
Read more about the case on the First Amendment Center.
Image credit: Shadow of a Person by Jeremy Brooks/Flickr, used under Creative Commons License