California Legislature Approves Steep Penalties for Reckless Driving

By Sean Burke and Patrick Alach, Paparazzi Reform Initiative

Today marks the 13th anniversary of the death of Princess Diana who tragically died in a car crash in France while being chased by paparazzi on motorcycles. An official inquest by the English government in 2008 placed partial responsibility for her killing on the “grossly negligent driving” of those pursuing her. Outrage at her death prompted promises from those in Europe and the U.S. to reign in the out-of-control paparazzi. While Europe has successfully put in place laws to restrict the intrusiveness of the paparazzi, the same cannot be said for the U.S., a place where the paparazzi are noticeably more numerous and aggressive than ever before. However, a new measure passed today by the California Assembly may make the streets in that state safer.

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Sean Burke, Founder of The PAPARAZZI Reform Initiative, with California Assembly Speaker Emeritus Karen Bass at her office in Sacramento(LMS permission granted).

“More and more the paparazzi have been out on the streets angling for the same photographs in what has become feverish competition. Paparazzi in cars chasing celebrities and ignoring traffic laws have placed not only celebrities and their children in harms way, but they also put bystanders in danger as well,” stated Sean Burke, Founder and CEO of the Paparazzi Reform Initiative (, a non-profit organization dedicated to bolstering privacy rights. “This new legislation we’ve supported imposes jail terms for paparazzi driving recklessly in the pursuit of a photograph. Their incarceration time can increase to a year if a child was put at risk during the car chase. We feel this new law will improve public safety in general and hopefully prevent anyone else from getting hurt.”

As the United States grapples with creating efficacious privacy laws, Europe has implemented a highly successful and sensible regime to protect personal privacy and curb the invasive paparazzi. It is now common to find the faces of celebrity children obscured in photographs printed in the European press. Celebrities Amy Winehouse, Lily Allen and Sienna Miller have all been awarded restraining orders against the paparazzi in London. “European law reflects the understanding that privacy rights can attach to the subject matter of certain activities in which any person engages, even if in a public place, and even if the conduct is exposed to the view of passersby,” said Patrick Alach, a California Attorney and partner at Longo & Alach LLP whose law review article Paparazzi and Privacy helped shape anti-paparazzi legislation in California in 2009. “The result is that even famous persons can engage in personal activities in public, such as walking on the beach or dining out, without intrusions or disruptions by swarms of photographers. Ultimately, the European approach respects personal space and personal dignity, and is a sensible guidepost towards which American law can develop,” said Mr. Alach.

“Our goal is to put in place privacy laws that not only affect those that find themselves in the spotlight, but will benefit everyone. Europe is ahead of us in this area, but the passage of the legislation by the California Senate today is a good step forward,” Mr. Burke said.

The PAPARAZZI Reform Initiative ( was founded in February, 2009, and is a California non-profit corporation dedicated to improving privacy rights. It is the only organization of its kind in the world directly working to mitigate the dangerous and invasive conduct of the aggressive paparazzi.

About the authors:

Sean Burke is the Founder and CEO of the Paparazzi Reform Initiative. Throughout his many years of working as a security professional in Hollywood, Mr. Burke personally witnessed the paparazzi harassment and abuse of his clients and other celebrities. Seeing paparazzi conduct become increasingly dangerous, he established the PRI in an effort to educate the public on paparazzi aggression, lobby for stronger privacy laws, and effect reform that restores order to the streets and the right to privacy, not only for those in the spotlight, but for everyone. Mr. Burke has worked closely with former California Speaker of the Assembly, Karen Bass, in support of her anti-paparazzi legislation that became law in January 1, 2010, and that passed today in the California Assembly. Recognized as the leading voice in opposition to the paparazzi and a strong proponent of stronger privacy laws, Mr. Burke has been quoted in Wall Street Journal, Washington Post and other news organizations.

Patrick Alach – legal counsel for the PRI. Mr. Alach’s widely distributed work “Paparazzi and Privacy” was published by Loyola Law School’s Entertainment Law Review and was one of the key works used to help form the legal framework for the anti-paparazzi legislation that was signed into law by California Governor Schwarzenegger in October of 2009. The amended law and Mr. Alach’s involvement in shaping it were widely documented in the Wall Street Journal, Sacramento Bee and a host of other prominent news and online publications.

By Sean Burke and Patrick Alach, Paparazzi Reform Initiative