Final Case Study Proposal

With the advancement of technology, information is being spread faster than ever. With the increase in accessibility, information is getting to more and more people. This progress has been helpful in many ways but harmful in others. Today people can upload a video to Youtube and post a picture on Facebook in a matter of seconds. Residents in one community can learn that a tornado is a mile away the minute someone living in the community next door posts a tweet. The image of a missing suspect can reach millions of people who can help locate him as soon as it is released to the media. In other cases, a person’s name and private information can become public and irreplaceable in a matter of minutes. Once this information is published, it often remains public forever and can’t be taken back from people’s memory.

Examples of private information which can become public include the following: traumatic or humiliating footage at an accident or crime scene, an intimate conversation,  images containing nudity or near-nudity and moments of distress or anguish. Occasionally, journalists who use this otherwise private information argue that the reveal is in the publics interest. They can prove this by showing a public interest justification. Examples of this information include threats to public safety, crime or corruption, exposing lies or deception and misadministration of government.  

I would like to study how the advancement of technology and increase in accessibility has affected people’s privacy rights. I would like to answer the following questions. 

  1. Where do people’s privacy rights come from and what laws exist to protect them?
  2. How has the advancement of technology challenged these rights ?
  3. In what ways is it more difficult now more than ever to keep private information from the public?
  4. What are some ways people can protect this information?

After addressing these questions, I will perform several case studies. Some cases prove that facts typically considered private are public instead. In Sipple v. Chronicle, the man who helped stop an assassination attempt on President Ford sued two newspapers for revealing that he was homosexual. The Court, however, dismissed this argument because the man’s sexual orientation and activeness in the gay community was already widely known. In Four Navy Seals v. Associated Press, several Navy Seals sued the Associated Press because it published photographs of them which looked as if they were abusing Iraqi captives. The court sided with the Associated Press by saying that the men were active duty, conducting wartime operations, in uniform and aware that the photos would be placed on the internet. Other cases defend personal privacy rights. In Diaz v. Oakland Tribune, Inc., the court held that the fact that a student political leader was transexual was not of legitimate concern. Although the person was included in several newsworthy articles, this particular fact couldn’t be published. 

Overall I would like to better understand where this line can be drawn and what ethical issues surround the publication of these facts. When the law isn’t so clear, what should and should not a journalist publish for the world to see? How has this privacy changed over time and how is it being challenged today?

Kristen Morrell,


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