Newtown photos barred: Did lawmakers balance privacy, public's right to know? (+video)
The Connecticut legislature passed a bill Wednesday restricting the release of crime-scene photos of the Newtown victims. The law brought relief to family members, but it's also prompted concerns among civil liberties groups.
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The decision brought great relief to many family members in Newtown, who have raised concerns about their privacy and the potential for the exploitation of graphic images of their loved ones online. But it has also prompted concerns among media organizations and civil liberties groups, which argue that keeping records related to crimes open to the public has an important value in a free society.
Indeed, it can be difficult to strike the right balance between privacy and the public’s right to know. To deal with these issues, the new law sets up a task force that is to make recommendations by Jan. 1.
“Everyone in the news media is going to be sympathetic to the plight of the families. It's not my sense that traditional news organizations would exploit the photos, but it’s a brave new world online, and there are those who would post things that would horrify most viewers,” says Ken Paulson, president of the First Amendment Center, which is based at the Newseum in Washington.
Since the First Amendment prevents the government from stopping publication of most material, he says, “you’ll increasingly see efforts by legislators to limit access” in the first place, since each state government can control the release of public records.
Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy (D) applauded passage of the bill, saying in a statement Wednesday that “those who lose loved ones to violence have a right to protect themselves against further anguish.” He also acknowledged that the issue requires “all of us to balance deeply held beliefs and important public policy values.”
The new law will create an exemption to the state’s Freedom of Information Act, preventing the release of photos, videos, or other visual images depicting homicide victims (not just those at Sandy Hook) if the records “could reasonably be expected to constitute an unwarranted invasion of the personal privacy of the victim or the victim’s surviving family members.”