Friday, May 25, 2007

Cho doesn't deserve any privacy protection

The Virginian-Pilot (Norfolk, VA.)
May 24, 2007 Thursday
The Virginian-Pilot Edition
Cho doesn't deserve any privacy protection
Since when do mass murderers - dead ones, anyway - have privacy rights?

Just wondering, because the eight-person Virginia Tech Incident Review Panel has slammed into a brick wall of federal privacy protections as it tries to unravel what led to last month's tragedy.

A key part of the mystery may be found in the mental health records of the killer, Seung-Hui Cho. They are secret, however, thanks to federal law.

Unbelievable. The moment this 23-year-old opened fire on fellow students and teachers on April 16 and unleashed the country's worst mass shooting spree, Cho gave up any claim he may have had to privacy.

Certainly his "privacy rights" should have expired when he did.

Apparently they didn't.

According to news reports, the investigators want copies of Cho's mental health records. Those files might provide a peek into his twisted mind. At the very least, the records would show whether Cho complied with court-ordered outpatient counseling two years ago.

The panel's request is simple. Complying with it is not.

On Monday, Tech President Charles Steger told the panel that federal privacy laws effectively gag school officials from disclosing personal information about students. Even more troubling, they prevent medical professionals from sharing critical information about students with school administrators.

In other words, it's unclear how much the university even has on file about Cho.

"I'm concerned about our inability to know these things," Steger said. "... Just saying we don't know is not good enough. We have to do better, but we must follow the laws."

Must we?

I wish Steger would release Cho's records - the ones he has access to - and dare the feds to do something about it.

Even without that , Gerald Massengill, the retired State Police superintendent who's serving as chief of the Tech review panel, said he'd go to the Virginia State Crime Commission to obtain a subpoe na for Cho's medical files if necessary.

That's the spirit.

Just one caveat: Under no circumstances should the panel agree to look at Cho's records and keep the contents secret.

This massacre took place on the grounds of a public university and cost 32 innocent people their lives. The public is entitled to a full and complete explanation of what happened. Including any disturbing data found in Cho's personal files.

We have lots of smart lawyers in Virginia. Surely one can find a way around well-meaning federal laws that never were intended to protect the privacy of crazed killers after they are dead.

Charles Dickens may have said it best when he wrote, "the law is a ass." In this case, it surely is.

Reach Kerry at (757) 446-2306 or at kerry.dougherty (at)

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