Should privacy laws protect murderers?


Wikipedia is under a censorship attack by a convicted murderer who is invoking Germany’s privacy laws in a bid to remove references to his killing of a Bavarian actor in 1990.
Lawyers for Wolfgang Werle, of Erding, Germany, sent a cease-and-desist letter demanding removal of Werle’s name from the Wikipedia entry on actor Walter Sedlmayr. The lawyers cite German court rulings that “have held that our client’s name and likeness cannot be used anymore in publication regarding Mr. Sedlmayr’s death.”

Occasionally I receive requests from people I've posted about, in regard to some hoax or fraud they committed in the past. They want me to remove or anonymize their name, because any google search for them immediately brings up MOH as the top link. They complain that it's become impossible for them to escape the stupid thing they did in their past. Depending on what they did (for instance, if it was a prank or petty crime), and how long ago they did it, I will consider anonymizing their last name by reducing it to a single letter. After all, I think people do deserve a second chance, and I don't want to be the one responsible for single-handedly casting a shadow over the rest of their life. But in the case of murder I think it's going too far to expect to have the slate wiped entirely clean.


Posted on Fri Nov 13, 2009


Great example of the Streisand Effect.

For those not aware of the term, it refers to how, in the Internet age, an effort to suppress information will often have the opposite effect and result in far more attention and publicity than the information would have otherwise gotten.

(With no parenthesis, I think the below link will work. We shall see...)
Posted by TexasAndroid  on  Fri Nov 13, 2009  at  11:00 AM
Plus, criminal charges are matters of public record. He doesn't have a leg to stand on if Wikipedia is merely citing an authoritative public record, rather than making private information known.
Posted by Nathan Shumate  on  Fri Nov 13, 2009  at  11:02 AM
In the netherlands it is common for criminals to have their names withheld (at least partially) when they are being published in the media. Instead of having their full name appear in the media they'll have their first name, followed by the first letter of their last name used in the media.
Perhaps Germany has the same idea?
Posted by DeadDodo  on  Fri Nov 13, 2009  at  01:27 PM
Is that a law in the Netherlands, though, or simply an accepted practice? I would think that, even in the Netherlands, criminal convictions are matters of public record, searchable on government websites.
Posted by Nathan Shumate  on  Fri Nov 13, 2009  at  05:12 PM
You make a good point Nathan, I shall research that.
I do know that the city council gives out letters of "proper behaviour" (for lack of a better translation) which will tell an employer whether or not someone has a clean record. What information is displayed in that letter if you do have a criminal record I don't know. (luckily mine's been clean every time I needed to provide one).
Posted by DeadDodo  on  Fri Nov 13, 2009  at  06:47 PM
I think that, if anything, the guys over at Wiki should make the name BIGGER......
Posted by daveprime  in  Deep in the sticks...*yay internet!!*  on  Sun Nov 15, 2009  at  01:20 AM
My client would demand exactly the opposite - for the good of the people, for the safety of our children and the sacred Public Right To Know, Nazi-style censorship of this sort should be ruthlessly suppressed and discouraged by all means up to and including incarceration.

Never forgive, never forget. Forgiveness is a Christian feebleness.
Posted by D F Stuckey  on  Sun Nov 15, 2009  at  05:30 PM
If it is in fact the case that a German court has ruled that his "name and likeness cannot be used anymore in publication regarding Mr. Sedlmayr
Posted by Concerto  on  Mon Nov 16, 2009  at  10:13 AM
Can the government from one country suppress publications from other countries?
Posted by Joe Schmoe  on  Tue Nov 17, 2009  at  11:22 AM
Joe Schmoe, yes, routinely.

One government cannot neccesarily stop publication of information in another country ( That's why so many countries know about how your people faked up 9/11 ) but they are well within their rights to prevent those publications entering their country and/or being disseminated.

Even on the Internet. Just ask Google China.
Posted by D F Stuckey  on  Tue Nov 17, 2009  at  02:36 PM
I know it is the case in the UK that foreign publications which publish libel can be prosecuted by foreign citizens if the publication is available in the UK (see I am not sure what the situation with contempt of court is, or what the situation is in Germany, but I just think that making a comment discounting the opinion of a court, in whatever jurisdiction, is a little arrogant unless you are in full possession of the facts and have legal training.
Posted by Concerto  on  Tue Nov 17, 2009  at  03:05 PM
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