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Internet Images and Privacy Rights: When The Web Bears Witness to a Loved One's Death


There’s an electronic window into everyone’s lives, and through this window, millions of eyes will pry and millions of people may learn the best and worst about you. It’s not like any other window. It sits safely on your desk, but it’s open to the malicious, and you can’t close it, not even with the law’s help. It’s so wide and so accessible that nearly every evil-doer can look into it. This is the window that plagues Christos and Lesli Catsourases, but they are fighting to close it.

In 2006, the Catsourases’ daughter, Nikki, died in a car wreck. Photos were taken of the accident, depicting a horrific and shocking scene. One would expect such photos to disappear into the ether, to allow the family to grieve and to heal, but to the Catsourases’ shock, the photos found there way on to the Internet. Allegedly, somebody from the California Highway Patrol (CHP) leaked the photos, and because of this, the horrific and heartbreaking images of Nikki’s death are now accessible to millions of viewers.
 
In an attempt to remove the photos from the Internet, the Catsourases hired a lawyer and a tech company called Reputation Defender, which specializes in removing malevolent Web content. These attempts have not been very successful. The Catsourases also initiated a law suit against the CHP, alleging negligence, privacy invasion, and infliction of emotional harm. However, in 2008, a California superior-court judge dismissed the suit, ruling that the CHP’s conduct had not violated the law. The Catsourases have since filed an appeal.
 
The Catsourases’ cause of action and their right to privacy have support in the law. In Nat'l Archives & Records Admin. v. Favish, 541 U.S. 157 (U.S. 2004), the plaintiff filed an action pursuant to the Freedom of Information Act, seeking to compel disclosure of Vincent Foster, Jr.’s suicide photos. However, Foster’s family objected to the disclosure on the grounds of personal privacy. In rejecting plaintiff’s claim, the Court held that the Freedom of Information Act, 5 USCS § 552, recognizes surviving family members' right to personal privacy with respect to their close relative's death-scene images. 
 
 
Subscribers can click here to read the Newsweek article: A Tragedy That Won't Fade Away; When grisly images of their daughter's death went viral on the Internet, the Catsouras family decided to fight back