Privacy Rights and Police Reports

Law enforcement experts are very aware of privacy concerns about police reports.

No one is surprised that some lawbreakers quickly become famous. But what about the victims? Should their names be made public? And what about people who have been injured in an accident or crime? US privacy laws require that health information should be a private matter. Does that legal principle also apply to police reports? 

West Bridgewater Police Chief Victor Flaherty recently released a police report about a May 28 car crash – with the names of the driver and victim blacked out. Robert Ambrogi, a media attorney and the executive director of the Massachusetts News Publishers Association, has demanded to see those names. (You can read about the case here.)

Chief Flaherty issued a statement that doing so would constitute an unwarranted invasion of privacy. He cited Massachusetts laws that prohibit the release of that information.

But Ambrogi disagreed: “A name is not a medical record, and the fact that someone was injured in an auto accident doesn’t turn it into one. There’s no ground to withhold the name of the victim in this case.”

Justin Silverman, the executive director of the New England First Amendment Coalition, also wants to see the name of the victim: “When a major car accident occurs on a public street and the driver is accused of fleeing the scene, we need to know who was involved and how law enforcement responded.”

What is your take on this privacy issue?

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