Relational Privacy Cases and Freedom of Information

By Bunker, Matthew D.; Splichal, Sigman L. | Newspaper Research Journal, Summer-Fall 1997 | Go to article overview

Relational Privacy Cases and Freedom of Information

Bunker, Matthew D., Splichal, Sigman L., Newspaper Research Journal

Study finds that if relational privacy reasoning is taken to its logical conclusion, access would be curtailed to a broad range of information related to deceased persons that has traditionally been available under federal and state access laws.

On August 26, 1990, while students were settling in for the fall semester at the University of Florida and Santa Fe Community College, residents of Gainesville, Florida learned that two college students had been brutally murdered. In the next two days, three more students were found slain. Students began leaving campus, many at the insistence of worried parents. As word spread of the brutal nature of the killings, more students fled. The community - and indeed much of the nation - was in shock, the effects of which would linger for months.

November 15, 1991, Danny Rolling was indicted on five counts of murder. The following June Rolling pled guilty to the five murders, three rapes, and three burglaries before Circuit Judge Stan Morris. A jury was seated to pass sentence. As part of the jury deliberations, jurors viewed several graphic photographs of the crime scenes and autopsies. At some crime scenes, mutilated or decapitated bodies were posed to shock whoever discovered the crimes. Rolling was sentenced to die in Florida's electric chair.

The state attorney for Florida's Eighth Judicial Circuit, who had prosecuted the case, filed a motion on behalf of the victims' families after the trial to block public disclosure of crime scene and autopsy photos related to the murders. The graphic and shocking photographs, which no doubt influenced the jury in passing sentence, were held by Judge Morris to be public records subject to Florida's liberal public access laws.(1) As such, the photographs were required to be made publicly available.

Judge Morris was faced with an apparent dilemma: further traumatize the already brutalized families of the victims by making the photos public and available to tabloid media, or seal the photos in defiance of the state public records law. Instead, the judge chose an alternative course that, he reasoned, served both the interests of the families and the spirit of the state public access law. Focusing on what he saw as the paramount privacy rights of the families of the victims, he fashioned a compromise that would allow members of the public to personally view the photographs, but that ensured the images would never leave the Alachua County Courthouse.(2) Central to Judge Morris' reasoning was a 1991 federal district court decision, New York Times Co. v. NASA,(3) which prevented disclosure of an audio tape of the last words of the Challenger astronauts before the space shuttle exploded, based on the privacy interests of the victims' families.

This paper explores the concept of privacy in public records based on the interests of third persons who are not part of the records, a privacy interest that a number of courts have called relational privacy.(4) The paper first examines the issue of whose privacy interests are protected by the exemptions to public records laws. Next, the paper explores the Challenger case and the legal issues it raised. It then looks at subsequent cases that apply the notion of relational privacy to limit access to government records. Although relational privacy cases are relatively few in number at present, their long-term implications for access to information seem quite significant.

The paper concludes that while the instincts of the judges in both the Challenger and Gainesville cases to protect the families of victims of monumental tragedies are well intentioned, decisions based on concerns about relational privacy set dangerous precedents for access. Such reasoning could lead to reduced access whenever disclosure of information might cause mental anguish to anyone.

Statutory privacy: To whom does it accrue?

The federal Freedom of Information Act contains two exemptions that allow federal agencies to withhold information based on privacy interests. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • A full archive of books and articles related to this one
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Cite this article

Cited article

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)


1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25,

Cited article

Relational Privacy Cases and Freedom of Information


Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25,

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

    Already a member? Log in now.