FOI And Privacy Panel Faces Deadline
HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — With a deadline fast approaching, a Connecticut task force charged with reviewing ways to balance victim privacy with the public’s right to know on Wednesday began discussing proposals offered by members, some hoping to reach a consensus on what to recommend to the General Assembly.
One possible compromise was offered by Klarn DePalma, vice president and general manager of WFSB-TV and WSHM-TV, who suggested creating a new archive or central repository at the Connecticut Freedom of Information Commissioner where sensitive or graphic information about crimes, such as photos and video, could be reviewed but not recorded or removed. Violators could face a criminal penalty.
“There’s got to be a way to have that information available,” DePalma said, adding how his proposal, however, would keep the information under wraps if a victim’s next of kin did not want it released.
The task force was created earlier this year by the legislature in the wake of the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown. The group must report its findings and recommendations to the General Assembly by Jan. 1. However, the legislation creating the Task Force on Victim Privacy and the Public’s Right to Know says the panel terminates on Jan. 1 or when it submits its report, whichever is later.
Although the panel has been meeting for months, it has not yet come up with any recommendations. Members are scheduled to meet next on Dec. 17.
In an attempt to jumpstart the discussions, several members, including DePalma, offered up ideas for possible recommendations for state lawmakers to consider when they convene in February. Chief State’s Attorney Kevin Kane, for example, called for excluding the portion of 911 audio tapes that include the caller describing or depicting the condition of someone who is suffering or dying, from being released publicly. A recent state law, passed at the urging of the Sandy Hook families, prevented police audio with that information from being released, not 911 tapes.
“So, you wouldn’t disclose the portion of a recording that contains somebody being killed or dying or that kind of thing,” Kane said of his proposal. “It expands the public act, potentially.”
Kane urged the task force to address the issue of 911 tapes, especially after a judge on Tuesday ordered the release of the 911 recordings from the Dec. 14 Sandy Hook shooting.
The case went to court after the state’s Freedom of Information Commission ruled in September they should be provided to The Associated Press, but Danbury State’s Attorney Stephen Sedensky III asked for a stay while he appealed the order. The AP sought the recordings in part to examine the police response to the massacre, which left 20 first graders and six educators dead. If the recordings are released, the AP would review the content and determine what, if any, of it would meet its standards for publication.
“I think that ruling by the court makes it all the more clear that we need to focus on what we need to do in regard to this statute,” Kane said.
James Smith, a task force member and president of the Connecticut Council on Freedom of Information, said he’s concerned the legislation passed earlier this year and what’s now being considered by the task force is based, at least in part, on the feelings of traumatized families. Some family members of Sandy Hook victims have testified before the task force.
“We really cannot make public policy seeking the opinions of people who are still legitimately, awfully traumatized by what happened to them,” he said, adding how, “in a democracy, you don’t solve problems by hiding information.”
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