Sunday, February 22, 2009

Cruising for a Bruising and Using Mayday for a Payday

Yesterday's story in the Los Angeles Times, "Rihanna photo prompts LAPD probe," is as much about privacy in the digital age as it is about a violent altercation between two Grammy-nominated celebrities. Because Rihanna was a possible victim of domestic violence, a digital photograph of the bruised face of the celebrity was taken by the LAPD to provide evidence of the apparent assault by her boyfriend Brown. After that it appears that the photograph was leaked to the tabloid website TMZ, thus compromising the privacy of the subject of a sensitive investigation. The report explains how this breach may have occured:

The handling and access to photos of abused women has been a issue recently in the department. For years, officers typically attached photos from domestic violence cases to the hard-copy reports they wrote during their investigations. With the advent of digital technology, however, patrol officers now commonly carry department-issued cameras and use them to take images at the scene of alleged abuse cases. Those photos are downloaded to a central computer server in the department, so they can be retrieved later by detectives assigned to a case, according to an LAPD detective supervisor who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to speak about the case.

In the coverage by Fox News of the story at "TMZ Responds to LAPD Internal Investigation on Battered Rihanna Photo," which also re-ran the photo of the celebrity to titillate viewers, a TMZ representative argues that the onus should be on the LAPD to manage their own employees and that the celebrity website didn't participate in the illegal act of compromising digital files and merely acquired the photograph in good faith.

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