The families of 9/11 victims have been through enough. They have the right to participate in controversies surrounding memorials to the tragedy, or not. They have the right to stay abreast of those controversies, or not. And they have a right to privacy, and to heal in solitude and in their own way, if they choose.
No one has any legal right to demand a list of the names and addresses of all these survivors, for any reason. They are not public figures, and they have a reasonable expectation that New York City, which has the information, won’t give it to others.
The courts should continue to uphold that right to privacy, as a state Supreme Court in Manhattan did last month when it rejected the demands of 17 families of victims who want the list of 2,749 names and addresses so they can pester these people into joining their political cause. The 17 families are appealing the decision.
At the root of the issue is the burial of the unidentified remains of 9/11 victims. The current plan calls for them to be placed in a private repository and viewing area, not open to the public, 70 feet underneath the National Sept. 11 Memorial and Museum at Ground Zero.
Members of the 17 families, in the appeal filed to get access to the information on families of victims, say it is “disrespectful” to place the remains in a place where tourists gather and knickknacks will be sold. They want the remains in a place separate from the museum, aboveground and in a “Tomb of the Unknowns.” There is significant disagreement about whether the current plan has always been the plan, and whether early correspondence with families made clear the intention to bury the remains at the museum site.
But one group of citizens who are likely aware of the issue, even if they aren’t being vocal or picking sides, are the relatives of the 2,749 victims. They could clearly make their feelings on the matter known if they so chose. The idea that other victims’ relatives have a right to these people’s personal information, to be used to harangue them toward fighting the current burial plan, has no basis in law or in the bounds of common decency.
And if a court were to rule the list public, the people on it wouldn’t just be hearing from their fellow list members, or be contacted on just this one issue. They would be pursued to buy memorial floral arrangements and plaques each year, to tell their stories to journalists and authors, to endorse politicians and causes and to attend every manner of public event.
The courts should continue to rule no one has a right to the private information of the families of 9/11 survivors. Better yet, these 17 families should stop pursuing that information. If the other folks on the list want to support your agenda, they’ll find you.