FREE SPEECH — More than two years after grisly photos from a teenage girls fatal car accident, circulated by California Highway Patrol dispatchers, landed on
the Internet and sparked a heated debate over the right to privacy of the dead and their survivors, a decision is expected soon.
CBS News reports that the plaintiffs in the case against the CHP are
forced to constantly relive the death of their 18-year-old daughter,
Nikki, who was killed during a high-speed crash in 2006.
Nikki was driving close to 100 m.p.h. on Halloween night when she
clipped another car, flipped across the median and crashed into a toll
booth. Very little remained of the Porsche she drove and the condition
of Nikkis body was so disturbing that the coroner would not allow the
Catsouras family to identify it.
However, days after the accident, millions of people saw pictures
from Nikkis crash on the Internet after at least one California
Highway Patrol dispatcher allegedly e-mailed photos of the scene to
friends. From there, the photos spread very quickly and landed on the
The family sought privacy for themselves and their late daughter by
suing the California Highway Patrol. A court initially ruled that
privacy rights do not extend to the dead. The family appealed, further
sparking the debate over privacy and first amendment rights.
Online expert Michael Fertik said new laws are needed to protect privacy on the Internet.
"Photos leak, comments get spread around, rumors get spread around.
It happens to regular, undeserving people all the time," he said.
People, even those dealing with death images online, are generally
protected by free speecha reality that has made the Catsouras family
realize the difficulty in fighting cyberspace.
"These Internet predators that are harming us, that won't take the
photos down, have more rights than we do," said Lesli Catsouras,
According to UCLA law professor Eugene Volokh, "When you give
people freedom, they sometimes use it in ways that are offensiveand
even in ways that are even disgusting."