Meskis, Wesson provide differing perspectives on the right to privacy

privacy panel

Where do we as a nation draw the line between personal freedom and public protection?

Joyce Meskis, owner of the Tattered Cover Book Stores, talked about the court battle she fought when the police tried to subpoena a customer's receipts. A customer was suspected, along with his housemates, of making methamphetamine. Police wanted evidence of whether a meth-cooking instructional book was purchased at Tattered Cover and by whom.

The case went to the Colorado Supreme Court and Meskis won in a careful consideration of compelling need vs. probable cause. Sometimes the need for information is great, and if the proper litmus test is passed, it should be turned over. In the end, the books were not about making meth.

Meskis had concerns that customers wouldn't understand the complex issues of the First Amendment and would stop patronizing her business. Meskis said First Amendment protections that apply to customers and booksellers also apply to patrons and libraries.

Mimi Wesson, a University of Colorado Law School professor, spoke about the case for a federal shield law for protection of journalists when it comes to confidential sources. People will shy away from granting anyone, such as journalists, an absolute privilege, she said. Protected confidentiality is permitted between a doctor and patient, psychologist and patient, priest and penitent, and lawyer and client. However, the people in those relationships share a common goal.

Concerning state shield laws, Wesson said they do a disservice to journalists by allowing state legislators, rather than a court, to decide who is a journalist and other criteria stated in shield laws. She recommended Jeffrey Tobias' article, "Name That Source," published in The New Yorker in Jan. 16, 2006, as "an excellent analysis" of journalists' First Amendment rights.

Joyce Meskis Mimi Wesson

Wesson also spoke about the recent First Amendment case at CU, whereby a professor, Ward Churchill, ran into trouble for his views of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Though he couldn't be punished for his inflammatory remarks, the rest of his record was open for review and an investigation of other wrongdoings is underway.

— Christine McManus, Colorado Press Women


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