Busted! (Privacy Violation or Not?)
In the area where I live (Bristol, VA/TN), there is a weekly paper called Tri-Cities Busted that contains photographs and alleged "crimes" of various people in several clustered counties. The photos are, of course, police department mugshots. The paper clearly states on the cover and throughout several pages that the people contained within it have only been ACCUSED of the crimes attached to their names, not CONVICTED.
The publishers of the paper, who seem to be cloaked in a shroud of anonymity and go by the trade name "Tri-Cities Busted" with only a phone number and a post office box to identify them, claim that they sell over 60,000 copies of the paper each week, at a dollar per issue. Obviously, readership is quite high since the population of Bristol is less than 60,000. I buy a copy myself each week out of sheer curiosity.
The publishers also claim, via a fine-print blurb in the paper itself, that the information provided within the pages of the Busted paper is information that is freely available to the public from various (named) law enforcement agencies in the area. I don't know about YOUR area, but I do know that in THIS area where they are obtaining their information, law enforcement agencies DO NOT provide full names and details about charges against defendants to "just anyone" from the public that inquires. Otherwise, we could all call up the local P.D. and ask for a list of names, charges, and accompanying photographs (mugshots) for everyone arrested within a particular time frame.
In a day and time where anyone can accuse someone of just about anything and have that person arrested and forced to endure the judicial process to determine actual guilt, isn't this a violation of a person's right to privacy? Friends, family members, employers, and potential employers likely peruse this little rag of a paper...and in most people's minds, it implies guilt before conviction.
Charges can be dismissed, the actual guilty party can be located, evidence can be introduced that exonerates the accused...but these people are already "guilty" in the mind of the public because their picture was shown with a little blurb stating what they supposedly did that was against the law.
Even in the underbelly of society, this "newspaper" can have damaging consequences for certain people. For example (and this is likely a stretch, but here goes...), a drug dealer sees that one of his suppliers or customers has been arrested and charged with a drug possession crime. The person is still mysteriously out and about and isn't spending time in jail. In the minds of some of the criminal subculture, this means that person is a narc (snitch). Thus, the accused (but not yet convicted) person is now a pariah and likely a target for violence.
Another example...a company executive just finished a round of interviews and has a potential candidate for the position at the forefront of his mind, and thumbs through the Busted flyer during his lunch break. He sees the potential candidate, who was the most qualified, as having been arrested on various charges and immediately decides that the person is no longer a viable prospect. If that person is subsequently convicted of the charges, perhaps he made a wise decision...but what if that person was charged in a case of mistaken identity, evidence was introduced in court that cleared him of wrongdoing, or the charges were otherwise dismissed?
And yet another example...someone reads through the flyer and discovers that one of their neighbors has been charged with a crime. Let's say...distribution of drugs. Or even domestic violence. That neighbor is now automatically considered a "criminal" by the do-gooder reading the paper and every move made henceforth is under scrutiny for the opportunity for the do-gooder to notify the police that "something else" is now going on at the alleged criminal's house. This would be harassment, naturally...and especially if the accused was subsequently cleared of the charges.
When does a person's right to privacy and someone else's "right" to violate that privacy become a controversial and disputable issue?
Virginia Code 8.01-40 prohibits the use of any person's name or picture for the purpose of "trade" (profit) without that person's written consent. (See http://leg1.state.va.us/cgi-bin/legp504.exe?000+cod+8.01-40 for legal citation.)
Tennessee Code 47-25-1103 states that every individual has a "property right" interest in the use of their name, photograph, or likeness in any medium and in any manner. (See http://law.justia.com/tennessee/codes/2010/title-47/chapter-25/part-11/47-25-1103/ for legal citation.)
Based on Virginia and Tennessee law, the publishers of Tri-Cities Busted are clearly violating the law many times over every week with each publication of their tabloid.
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