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First Meeting Of Panel Considering Victim Privacy, Public Info

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(Courtesy Department of Social Services)

(Courtesy Department of Social Services)

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By SUSAN HAIGH, Associated Press

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) _ Members of a new task force charged with recommending to state lawmakers how to balance victim privacy under Connecticut’s Freedom of Information Commission with the public’s right to know met for the first time on Thursday, acknowledging they face a challenging job.

Don DeCesare, a representative of the Connecticut Broadcasters Association and co-chairman of the 17-member panel, said the charge may sound simple but it’s extremely complicated.

“I know for sure it is not going to be an easy line to draw,” he said, adding how “there is a lot at stake.”

State lawmakers created the task force as part of a new law that blocked release of crime scene photos and video evidence from the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown and other homicides. It was originally in response to requests from family members of the Sandy Hook victims, who feared their loved ones photos would be spread on the Internet.
The task force includes representatives of a range of professions and perspectives on open government laws, including the media, police, a legislator representing Newtown, a Quinnipiac Law School professor, the executive director of the Freedom of Information Commission and Chief State’s Attorney Kevin Kane.

While the group still needs to determine its priorities, Kane said he expects the group will have to come up with recommendations on whether certain police audio tapes should be released to the public. The new law barred the release of such tapes, including recorded descriptions of homicide victims, until May 2014.

“It’s obvious the legislature would like a recommendation from this task force because they’re going to have to decide next session what to do,” said Kane, who has supported blocking the release of certain audio recordings to protect the privacy of victims and their families.

“I think this panel needs to address it,” he said. “I mean, these are dying words of people, whether they’re victims of a crime, or whether they’re people firefighting in a building where the roof collapses on them or something like that.”

But Jodie Mozdzer-Gil, president of the Connecticut Society of Professional Journalists, said her group is sensitive to such concerns but wants to make sure the public’s right to know is protected and that information that was previously public remains public.

“If we’re allowing the government to decide that something should not be public, how do we know that they’re doing the right thing,” she asked.

“We’re letting professional journalists be the ones to decide whether or not this is something we should publish. So, they’re the ones that should be the gatekeeper.”

The group is expected to meet again later this month.

(© Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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