Virginia Tech – Information graphic and a personal thought

9 Sep

I’ve taken a deeper look at Chapter 4 of the report of the Virginia Tech Review Panel and created this graphic, which compartmentalizes the various pieces of information about Cho Seung Hui that were known by groups inside and outside the university. As outlined in text in the state report, the graphic illustrates that the Virginia Tech Police Department, Virginia Tech Residence Life and the various teachers who worked most closely with Cho had potentially relevant information about Cho that was not shared with Virginia Tech’s multidisciplinary Care Team (which had formal responsibility for threat assessment). It also illustrates that Cho’s high school had information that might have been of assistance to Virginia Tech, but was not shared when he registered or in the course of his studies.

Barring any significant developments, this is probably the last I’ll blog about Virginia Tech. Before moving on, however, I do feel compelled to share a personal thought. This is a blog, after all. You see, I’ve been a very responsible lawyer in blogging about this issue and have kept things nice and objective. I’ve purposely chosen not to use the word “tragedy” because I thought it unhelpful and obfuscatory.

Chapter 4, however, got to me. Perhaps it’s because I’m a new father and the Chapter starts with a story about Cho having a heart problem as an infant and his corrective medical procedure leading, at age three, to the start of severe emotional problems. It also touched me that, through the great efforts of his parents and his public school educators, Cho seemed to be managing his difficulties pretty well up until university. Then it all rapidly spiraled downwards to the terrible ending. Though he’s ultimately responsible for an atrocious act, I’m sad for Cho as I’m sad for his parents and his victims.

All of which underlies the essence of this issue. When privacy is balanced against security it rarely seems a fair fight. Privacy is well understood as a fundamental human right, yet security tends to be cast as just another intangible concept, and worse, one associated with institutional or governmental rather than human interests. I don’t believe that it’s always fair to characterize security interests this way. Security can be as much about helping troubled individuals as about preventing harm to others. I’m engaged by the Virginia Tech case because it demonstrates this well. Perhaps tragedy is a helpful word after all.

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