Opinion: FOI Laws Assault Crime Victims
Earlier this year, in the wake of the Newtown school shootings, the legislature approved a measure that bars the release of crime scene photos in homicide cases from the public and media. A statewide task force is now debating the issue. If the ban holds, it's a good place to start. But if it remains limited to homicide cases, it doesn't go far enough. Why should victims of sexual assault or domestic violence, for example, have to worry about photos or other gory details becoming public?
Furthermore, the state law is limited to images "created" by the law enforcement community. What about images that are created by another agency or individual that find their way into the police file? What if the killer photographs a murdered victim and that photo becomes evidence? Is that photograph available to the public? The legislation enacted sure seems to indicate it would be.
What about myriad other materials often uncovered in an criminal investigation – financial documents, personal emails, notes or letters? If those become part of a police report of court case file, that private information is changed, forever, into public information.
In contrast, state employees' personnel files remain protected from public view. If the goal of FOI laws is to promote government tranparency, then perhaps it's these files that should be open. After all, newspapers and television stations are more likely to find clues about corruption there than in crime victims' private information.•