New York State Starts Walking Back On Transparency; Grants Gun Owners Exemption From Disclosure Of Public Records

from the first,-they-came-for-my-interactive-map... dept

The backlash against the publication of gun owner data by the Lower Hudson Journal News late last month has turned into a backlash against “freedom of information” laws. Putnam County officials started this regressive ball rolling by refusing to comply with the Journal News' request, breaking a state law in the process. No matter, Sen. Greg Ball was there to share the limelight and offer to rewrite the state law to limit gun owner date to prosecutors and law enforcement.

As was noted then, making exceptions to freedom of information requests on the basis of public outcry is a giant step in the wrong direction. Holding back public records or granting disclosure exceptions simply because the information might be used in an unpleasant way just makes it easier to make more exceptions and withhold more information down the road. This is the direction the state of New York is now headed with the passage of its gun control bill, the NY SAFE Act of 2013, an exemption for gun owners that flies in the face of Governor Cuomo's earlier transparency promises.

Last week, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo laid out an ambitious open government agenda in his state of the state address, declaring his commitment to provide “easy, single-stop access to statewide and agency-level data, reports, statistics, compilations and information.” This week he carved out his first exemption: gun owners.

The anonymity exemption, which requires gun owners to provide a reason they wish to remain out of the public record, is a response to the controversy that followed the Journal News' publication last month of the names and addresses of over 33 thousand hand gun permit holders in Rockland and Westchester counties, north of New York City.

The problems with this exemption are obvious. If one set of individuals can effectively “opt out,” what's to stop others from claiming they too should be exempted?

“It sets a dangerous precedent,” says Noel Hidalgo, Code for America's New York Program Manager, “where special interest groups can exempt their communities.” If firearm owners can create an exemption from public disclosure, than why couldn't licensed livery car drivers, healthcare workers, sellers of pesticide or lawyers?

For that matter, what's to stop those in power from crafting even broader exemptions for favored lobbying groups, colleagues or for any other data they wish to keep hidden from the public? It's not so much that this exemption is a slippery slope — that slope has long since been descended — it's that placing arbitrary limitations on requested data, especially in response to an isolated incident, compounds an existent problem: the ongoing lack of transparency in many government agencies.

Even worse, there were better ways to handle the gun owner data that would not have required altering existing laws by adding an exploitable exemption:

“Some of the concern with the Journal News dataset is the fact that they put an individual's name and address with a gun,” says Hidalgo. According to him, listing gun permit holders by name and zip code or census tract could better satisfy the competing demands the personal privacy and public disclosure, than simply exempting data from public record.

The law gives gun owners a chance to opt out using one of two reasons: belief that publication of their data would put their life at risk (police officers, former witnesses/jurors in criminal cases, etc.) or the wish to avoid “unwarranted harassment.” Bob Freeman, the executive director of New York's Committee on Open Government, says this wording is way too vague.

“We're all involved in 'unwarranted harassment' every day of our lives,” he continues, referring to his full e-mail box in the morning, and unsolicited calls from journalists as potential examples.

Meanwhile, Sen. Greg Ball's legislation is still in motion, looking to exempt pistol purchasers from FOI disclosure. Those registering for a pistol permit will be automatically opted-in under his proposal. Ball lays part of the blame on modern technology, suggesting that if the information were only a bit harder to attach to a Google map, he'd leave the law unchanged.

When initially established the Freedom of Information Law couldn't possibly be written to factor in modern technology including social media tools (Twitter, Facebook, etc) or advanced mapping technologies like Google Maps. These social media advancements emerged as commonplace tools to access personal information after many public information laws were passed. The advent of the Internet must be considered when working to ensure every citizen of New York has both their privacy and safety protected, guaranteed by law.

Like many lawmakers, Ball only wants to update laws to reflect the “advent of the internet” when it aligns with his agenda. We've seen resistance to update laws that operate favorably for those benefitting from the lack of timeliness, including outdated gems like the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act or various copyright laws that proponents want stretched past their expiration date in order to treat file sharing like selling bootleg DVDs out of the trunk of a car. Ball's desired update of the FOI law isn't about reflecting the current reality; it's political opportunism that dovetails nicely into the government's natural tendency towards opacity.

The state of New York has taken several steps in the right direction in terms of transparency. Now it's allowing the prevailing winds to push it a step back.


Some last-minute additions, tacked on to the bottom, as this post has already been “put to bed,” as they say in places where ink still hits paper.

The Lower Hudson Journal News has decided to take down its “gun map,” claiming that it wished to follow the “spirit” of the newly-passed NYSAFE gun law exemptions. Here's the paper's full statement:

With the passage this week of the NYSAFE gun law, which allows permit holders to request their names and addresses be removed from the public record, we decided to remove the gun permit data from at 5 pm today.

While the new law does not require us to remove the data, we believe that doing so complies with its spirit. For the past four weeks, there has been vigorous debate over our publication of the permit data, which has been viewed nearly 1.2 million times by readers. One of our core missions as a newspaper is to empower our readers with as much information as possible on the critical issues they face, and guns have certainly become a top issue since the massacre in nearby Newtown, Conn. Sharing as much public information as possible provides our readers with the ability to contribute to the discussion, in any way they wish, on how to make their communities safer.

We remain committed to our mission of providing the critical public service of championing free speech and open records.

And, from the if-you-don't-have-time-to-do-it-right,-how-will-you-find-time-to-do-it-twice department, the rushed NYSAFE bill failed to include exemptions for law enforcement.

A New York lawmaker says that the state’s recently passed gun control law stunningly fails to include any exemptions for law enforcement officers, and technically prohibits police from ever bringing guns on school grounds or possessing extended ammo magazines.

Of course, no one really has to do it twice. A Cuomo spokesman has already verbally exempted police officers from the new law, allowing it to join the many other laws police officers are free to ignore. (Jab!) Presumably, amended language will join the rest of the passed bill early next week. 

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Comments on “New York State Starts Walking Back On Transparency; Grants Gun Owners Exemption From Disclosure Of Public Records”

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DCL says:

Reasonable right to privacy

Does my reasonable right to privacy for what I have in my home override the general public’s right to know the details of my data that is collected for a license?

I grant that this seems to be a tricky situation but I think it is perfectly valid to let individual gun owners ask for the right not to have their data published.

Does the government publicly list all car owners? eligible voters? people who get a Social Security check? the people who have green cards? Does the census publish all the details about what households answered the survey and how many people live in that house?

I am pretty sure the answer is no to those questions, why is it different for a non-commercial, private owner gun license?

I am not against publishing some data, just against publishing detailed information that is enough to track down what home has a registered gun with 3 min worth of cross referencing on the internet. The number of guns in a zip code level or census track seems a viable balance.

Now there should be ABSOLUTE transparency to the public regarding who has access to the list and how often they use it. The data should NOT be given to the police unless they have a warrant or reasonable cause (even that is iffy and oft abused).

DCL says:

Re: Reasonable right to privacy

Normally I like and agree with Tim’s posts but not this time, in this case I think this post is taking the wrong stance and off base. My rights as a citizen outweigh the public’s right to know what I have in my house.

I think transparency in government is very, very important. The reason is that transparency protects the public and helps the public prevent the government from collecting “dirty laundry” and skeletons in closets. It is not the goal to expose the assets of individual people who have a reasonable right to their privacy.

This article seems to be more focused on the idea that the public has right to the data at a very detailed level. I would instead expect a Techdirt article to have a view focused more on the idea that it is public knowledge of who has access to the detailed data and when and why the details are accessed.

If you think that the details should be public think of these scenarios in regards to how you would feel if it was your name in these scenarios:

* An insurance agency published a list of names and addresses of those who had supplemental jewelry polices. Imagine the outcry!
* people with drivers licenses and where they live
* people who own chainsaws!
* those who buy more than 3 bags of fertilizer (they could be making a bomb!)

I think we should also be asking why that data is being collected in the first place and is it valid and who should have access to it. What is the balance between the government having more data about us and the perception of public safety?

Guns are a tool, a dangerous tool, but just a tool. So are knives, cars, chainsaws, fireworks, cans of gasoline, archery equipment, ladders, bathtubs, swimming pools, bicycles, and high powered computers. Why are some of those required to have licenses to own but not others and how does that compare to data on how they how many people get hurt by them?

Capitalist Lion Tamer (profile) says:

Re: Re: Reasonable right to privacy

This article seems to be more focused on the idea that the public has right to the data at a very detailed level. I would instead expect a Techdirt article to have a view focused more on the idea that it is public knowledge of who has access to the detailed data and when and why the details are accessed.

Overall, both of your comments make good points. I agree that the goal of transparency laws is to make the government more transparent, not spread personal data of private citizens.

The issue becomes a bit more complex when the two intertwine, as they do here. Wanting to know who has access to the data and why is a key component of this. How that will work out when gun owner data rests solely in the hands of law enforcement and prosecutors remains to be seen. Or not, seeing as they’ve always had access to this data.

As for the examples you list — these are all terrible uses of the data. Should that data be available if there’s a chance for misuse, as in the case of the Journal News’ gun owner map? That’s trickier. One newspaper’s thoughtless data dump has done a lot of damage and at this point, it’s impossible to separate gun registration as public record from the climate now surrounding it. What may have seemed logical a few weeks ago now seems like a horrific invasion of privacy.

As is pointed out here in the comment threads, perhaps the real issue lies with gun registration itself. This builds a list of gun owners that can be accessed at any time by prosecutors and law enforcement as well as many other government officials. Tie this in with increasing gun restrictions and you have a serious problem. If they suddenly decide you can no longer have certain weapons, they know just where to find them. But that’s a tangent (at least at this point).

My ultimate concern is the granting of exceptions based on a.) recent events and b.) a gift to certain lawmakers to bring them on board with increased gun control. And as for Sen. Ball, I sense no genuine concern in his words or deeds. He may be “pro-gun,” but he’s leveraging a situation for political gain. Reading his statements about the paper, one comes across phrases like “elitist eggheads coddling terrorists,” not entirely indicative of someone who’s interested in taking a dispassionate look at the circumstances and coming up with the right decision, or at the very least, something better.

Now, I may be completely wrong in regards to my stance on this issue. (Reading through the comment thread seems to indicate that’s a very real possibility…) The concern I have is that granting exemptions in the face of public outcry isn’t the right way to handle this — just as much as treating every tragedy as an excuse to clamp down on guns, violent movies, videogames, etc. isn’t the right way to deal with those situations.

Ultimately, I think the situation went from bad to slightly worse with this move. It works out better in terms of privacy for a certain group of individuals, but it does collateral damage to transparency and creates more wiggle room for government officials looking for transparency loopholes.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Reasonable right to privacy

Short answer depends.

It is reasonable to not allow any data to be collected or viewed by anybody even if it helps solve problems?

Someone conducting a survey about some disease and its spread accross the country could help pin point outbreaks or catch people dumping nasty stuff somewhere, you would like that for sure.

What you wouldn’t like is that insurance companies started targeting or excluding some areas because of that same data.

So it depends, gun data could be useful to flag trends(good or bad).

One thing I do know, the government or any government for that matter will not give up their record keeping and the more they can tell you about it the better, guns are not the only records, there are several other databases and they can all be being abused right now and you wouldn’t know about it.

Do you know that people can trace where you have been with your cellphone tower information, that is a hell of a lot more private, how would you know about it if it can’t be exposed?

You can chose to not see or you can chose to see it and deal with the consequences, the choice is yours.

Abuse will happen either way.

gorehound (profile) says:

Re: Reasonable right to privacy

Another very important point which should be shouted loudly is these Gun Owners now are known to every Criminal Type in their Region.
Want to know who has Guns in their home to steal ?
Just Reference what this Paper did.

They did this in very bad taste and if I had lived in that Region I am sure that Paper would never be read in my home.

bob (profile) says:

Re: Reasonable right to privacy

except, in a lot of places, the police are the ones issuing the license. In MA (and other states) what kind oof license you are allowed (concealed carry, not concealed carry, various limitations) is often at the whim of the police chief of the town you live in. Some almost never give out concealed carry licenses while others do. I know people who chose the town they move to based on gun licensing friendly police chiefs.
and yes, at their whim, they don’t have a code to follow and if they are having a bad day when you come across their desk, too bad. doesn’t SEEM legal to leave an amendment right to someones whim, but that’s how it works.

pcdec says:

I personally feel US citizens with a clean background check shouldn’t need to register their firearms or need to have a concealed carry permit to carry them. I think this defeats some of the purpose of the second amendment.

As far as the FOIA I’m all for transparency but I don’t think the government should be allowed to hand out the personal information of citizens who haven’t broken the law.

The Real Michael says:

Re: Re: Re:

Precisely. They treat gun ownership as if it were a privilege, but it’s not. What’s next, register with the government in order to speak?

BTW, the “law” passed in NY against gun owners is unconstitutional and will rightly be ignored by the vast majority of gun owners. Nobody needs the government’s permission in order to exercise their rights.

“The Framers of the Bill of Rights did not purport to ‘create’ rights. Rather, they designed the Bill of Rights to prohibit our Government from infringing rights and liberties presumed to be preexisting.” – William J Brennan Jr.

Beta (profile) says:

the best way to keep a secret is not to know it

Why have such a database at all? Why should the government gather it in the first place?

The same new technology that makes the existence of these records so awkward also makes them unnecessary. Decades ago it made sense for permits to exist as a sheaf of papers in a file cabinet at police headquarters (when gun permits existed at all– they are a recent invention and I’m not convinced that they’ve proved worthwhile). But now a little asymmetric encryption could give us unforgeable permits that citizens could hold. The authorities would have no need to keep a database (although they will always have a desire to gather all the information they possibly can about citizens, because, well, security, or whatever).

The same goes for driver’s licenses, marriage licenses, medical records, all kinds of things.

And let’s not forget: it’s not just the government that wants to know your secrets, some of your neighbors want to know them too. Just as it’s our duty to uphold freedom of speech we don’t like, it’s our duty to respect the privacy of people who are into things we’re not.

Anonymous Coward says:

Yeah, sorry, but I don’t think the public has a right to the name and address of every person with a gun license.

And even the anti-gun people should be against this, because it creates a perfectly legitimate reason for gun owners to oppose registration in the first place.

‘”Some of the concern with the Journal News dataset is the fact that they put an individual’s name and address with a gun,” says Hidalgo. According to him, listing gun permit holders by name and zip code or census tract could better satisfy the competing demands the personal privacy and public disclosure, than simply exempting data from public record.’

Why name? Why not just zip code?

Either people can cross-reference the name and zip code to find out the identity of the person (in which case deleting the address does no good) or they cannot (in which case keeping the name does no good.) I can just imagine the poor kid whose friends suddenly can’t come over because his dad has the same name as a registered gun owner.

FOIA laws are supposed to provide transparency in GOVERNMENT. Not transparency of private citizens who happen to interact with some part of government.

“In response to your FOIA request, the following people were observed by surveillance camera as having entered the North Park women’s restroom on June 14.” Do you really want the government executing this request for who used government facilities?

kenichi tanaka says:

While I understand this sets a dangerous precedent, I agree with the New York Mayor that Freedom of Information requests should be limited in scope.

The problem is that gun owners privacy information was only obtained by the Journal News so they could publish a public list identifying which Americans own licensed guns and addresses and phone numbers and neighborhoods where those licensed gun owners live.

Not only should FOIA requests be limited but the government should place restrictions on such information where it pertains to the privacy information of any American citizen.

If a media organization or some individual requests information about anything and it includes personal information about any American citizen (name, address, phone number or other personal identifying information) that anyone who requests that information be limited to such information and criminal penalties be levied against such individuals who reveal that personal information.

Anonymous Coward says:

We now have evidence that criminals targeted firearms owners as a direct result of the disclosures by the Lower Hudson Journal News.

FOIA and Sunshine laws that help criminals acquire guns are just fine I see.

I think we should publish the information of all the people who do not have any sort of protection against criminals.
But this would be an invasion of privacy, unless it’s about guns.

The politicians go into executive session when they don’t want to be “on the record” already(to often I might add).

I personally have no problem with this special exemption for gun owners in NYS.

I am much more interested in where and how my representatives make their money. Laws about income disclosure should be updated to more fully address this issue.

shane (user link) says:

Re: Re: Re:

Google. Heard of it?

Obviously there’s no hard and fast proof yet since no one has been caught and the burglars didn’t leave a little note saying, “Hey, we heard you had guns. Can you leave us the combo to your gun safe?”

Varsil (profile) says:


“”It sets a dangerous precedent,” says Noel Hidalgo, Code for America’s New York Program Manager, “where special interest groups can exempt their communities.” If firearm owners can create an exemption from public disclosure, than why couldn’t licensed livery car drivers, healthcare workers, sellers of pesticide or lawyers?”

I’m a lawyer. In my area, I have the right to either have my name published on the roster or left unpublished. My home address, on the other hand, is never published unless I do so independently.

Anonymous Coward says:

Do you think we live in a world where knowledge of where lots of guns are stored, with minimal security, published online and easily available to anyone, that that won’t lead to more gun violence? That someone who wants a gun that isn’t registered or connected to them, might use this to their advantage?

If we’re gonna do this, we better start registering people with prescription drugs too and giving out their details with a FOIA request. Prescription drugs can be used for illegal purposes too.

Capitalist Lion Tamer (profile) says:

Re: Re:

If we’re gonna do this, we better start registering people with prescription drugs too and giving out their details with a FOIA request. Prescription drugs can be used for illegal purposes too.

Law enforcement already has this information. (Not sure if an FOIA request would spring it, what with HIPAA surround it.) Here’s what they do with the data.

While preparing his recently deceased wife’s body for transporation to a funeral home, an elderly man in Vernal, Utah says that city’s police arrived at his house to confiscate Barbara Mahaffey’s pain medications, which she had taken while dying of colon cancer. Eighty-year-old Ben Mahaffey is now suing Vernal…

In his suit, Mahaffey alleges that Vernal City Manager Ken Bassett told Mahaffey he was being “‘overly sensitive’ and that police were just trying to protect the public from illegal use of prescription drugs.” The suit also alleges that Bassett then told Mahaffey “his own parents had recently died and he wouldn’t have cared had police searched their house for drugs.” Vernal has yet to comment on the lawsuit. Mahaffey’s lawyer says that the pseudo-raid on the elderly couple’s home is “common practice for Vernal police when someone dies, but that it’s selectively applied.”

Wonderful, isn’t it? Safer already.


Sauce for the Goose

I thought the part about whining about cops was funny. If we are going to have a “gun free society” than that should include ALL CIVILIANS. Cops should have to live by the same restrictions as the rest of us. Otherwise that continues to perpetuate the supply of forbidden devices. They still have to be built by someone and sold by someone. They’re a perfect target for the corrupt or the incompetent (like fast and furious).

shane (profile) says:

Re: Your car

is a deadly weapon. Your gasoline.

Your brain… not so much. I think I like this blog better when I don’t read comments. Especially today. It’s turned into the National Democratic Committee outlet on gun control talking points.

So called “progressives” want to fight the government with pink balloons and bobby pins. Any of you know ANYTHING about the labor movement? Pinkertons? You think the government and big corporations are going to give up THEIR guns.

Oh Lordy… we’re doomed. The only people who know what a fight is are on the wrong side.

shane (profile) says:

Re: Re: And Self Righteously Too

They are now out beating the bushes that supporting the second ammendment at all is racist.

That’s right, they concocted a racist angle to help them disarm the public…..

Amazing. It’s a moral absolute to ban things. Does no one realize that guns are not all THAT high tech? That there will simply be a black market? How much larger of a prison population do you Democratic party shills need to support the government takeover of all industry?

Yes, yes, that’s hyperbole. I say it because I know the next word out of their mouths will be “extremist!” Like publishing gun owner’s names and addresses ISN’T extremist………..?????

Good grief. We can’t even get consensus on THAT?

The Real Michael says:

Re: Re: Re: And Self Righteously Too

There’s nothing moral about the government attempting to deny people their rights. That sort of behavior is reserved for tyrannical governments.

IF guns are the “casue” of crime, like the media is trying to portray them as being, please explain why England has about FOUR times the violent crime rate per capita as the US, despite banning guns? Explain why, despite there being over 300 million guns in the US, the gun murder rate is about 12,000, down from years ago, and over half of these murders are either suicides or gang-related w/ illegal guns? There were 323 deaths caused by semi-auto rifles in 2011, less than as caused by blunt objects, knives and fists individually, yet we’re supposed to sit here and buy the notion that inanimate objects somehow cause crime?

There will be thousands of people who will die by drowning this year. Should we ban swimming pools and water? Likewise, thousands more will die in car accidents. Should we ban cars? Some will die due to DUI. Should we ban alcohol? I could go on and on.

The Second Amendment isn’t a privilege, nor about want or need –it’s a RIGHT. The framers of the Constitution believed that every citizen had a natural right to arms, without government consent. Indeed, the Constitution isn’t so much about giving people rights so much as it’s about LIMITING GOVERNMENT POWER AND INTRUSION. The only possible explanation for the sudden push to disarm Americans is that the government wants to transform the citizens into subjects who cannot put up any form of resistance. If you think things are bad now, disarm and watch what how much worse things get.

ldne says:

Re: Re:

The pertinent authorities in this case did know who had them, and you and the newspaper aren’t them. You are likely surrounded by firearms and their owners virtually every day, either in your own neighborhood or on the streets and are unaware of it. The vast majority of legal owners never do anything with them except shoot a paper target, you have far better chances of getting killed crossing the street.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Amen

the thing that people fail to understand is that singular acts of homicidal violence are far far less destructive than governmental genocides. 170 Million people have been killed since the beginning of last century by their own governments.

Look up Rwanda, Cambodia, Guatemala, Honduras, and of course, Stalin Era Soviet Union, Turkey, and Nazi Germany.

It would take something like 750 years of the highest murder rate recorded to reach that number.

shane (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Amen

I think my wording is awkward. If you read it closely though, what it means is that this information should not be public, and I can’t imagine why anyone would WANT it public.

Sorry for the sloppy writing. It’s been pro gun control slop all day yesterday at Tech Dirt and it really gets to me. Just sort of re-emphasizes that there is no place left in America where people really comprehend the engine of freedom designed into the constitution.

You can’t take out the brakes and then act all mystified (And even self righteous and pedantic) when people who know how a car works get antsy about it.

FarSide (profile) says:

I get the part about exceptions being bad. And it’s extremely important. Super important.

The idea is if the government is allowed to keep things from us, and we aren’t allowed to view their data, then there is literally no oversight (and don’t give me ‘Congress’ as an answer..)

The point gets confused, but we need is transparency of the Government. Not transparency of our neighbors and selves. However, a conflict occurs when the government starts collecting lots of data on us.

Unfortunately, this is almost totally moot anyway. The government hides everything it does behind a shield of national security, and precious few seem to care. (That gives me an idea… all they have to do is declare gun registrations ‘classified’ and this particular problem goes away.)

(If you hadn’t guessed, I am in agreement with those above saying they shouldn’t be gathering info on citizens…)

Mr. Applegate says:

Here is the rub. The freedom of information act requires the government to release information, including personal information to anyone. On its face this seems like a good idea. The problem is what is done with the personal information. When someone publishes personal information about individuals, at least in my mind, they are putting my right to privacy at risk.

Here are a few examples:

During the last election I received a notice listing me and all my neighbors and if we had voted in the past. In my opinion this is totally irresponsible, my voting habits are a personal thing and publishing my voting habit increases the chance that I will be pressured to vote (or not vote), pressured to vote a certain way, or if that information is put together with other information possibly endanger my life.

Medical records are another good example. What if we published everyone who had an abortion? How about everyone with HIV? Too extreme you say? How about we simply publish all those whose use Medicaid to gain access to healthcare? Or just those who are on Medicaid and smoke?

How about if we publish everyone’s religious beliefs along with when and where they attend church?

There needs to be some protections against people publishing personal information obtained through FIOA requests, or other access to public records.

Yes, I think everyone should have access to public information but that must be balanced with my right to privacy!

Registering my gun purchase or permit status should not open me up to scrutiny from the public that wouldn’t otherwise occur. It might encourage me to not register my purchase or get a permit to carry.

Publishing names and addresses of gun owners not only places the life, health and property of the gun owner and his family at risk but also those of neighbors should a thief break onto the wrong home looking for guns or ammo.

shane (profile) says:

Re: Tech Dirt a Leftist Pro Intrusive Government Blog? WTF???

This is why people resist allowing the government to collect information to begin with. It is helpful for the government to maintain databases so that when something goes wrong they have information to help speed emergency action or help law enforcement. Instead, idiots pull stunts like this publishing of gun owners and prove that it just does not work out in practice for the government to keep records of this sort.

This also is a part of the culture of criminalization and medicalization we have that is expanding the purview of the government into our private lives.

This site, which often complains about the government’s over reach, has shown in the last 24 hours a somewhat surprising willingness to back the government as long as it is annoying people they do not agree with.

It’s fairly obvious the writer here is unconcerned with the rights of the gun owners here. I do not see one, single acknowledgement that this was the part of the issue he disagrees with. He wants the information to be gathered, the information to be publishable, and for the government to stand firm and keep doing things like this.

I’m still for all the things that brought me to Tech Dirt originally, but I am learning some things about this little community that are disheartening to say the least.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Tech Dirt a Leftist Pro Intrusive Government Blog? WTF???

One of the reasons I like and continue to read techdirt is that Mike encourages contrasting points of view – even from the writers of articles that post. So while I too don’t agree with everything Tim puts forward here (ie I am a strong supporter of 2nd amendment rights) I think your characterization of the blog is a bit unfair. Also from what I have seen, there are many regulars within the community that have made comments supporting the 2nd amendment as well. I think Mike purposely avoids delving into a traditional discussion of the 2nd amendment in his articles because it strays a bit too far off the topics he wants to cover. However the related issues of privacy and manipulation of the law fall squarely within that realm.

shane (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Mostly Not About Guns

What I’m seeing in that search is that the vast majority of posts on Tech Dirt, even the ones that include the word “gun”, aren’t about guns. Of the ones that are, I see more stuff that tends to demonize the NRA specifically over the 1st Amendment. Indeed, one of the recent stories that DOES point a finger of blame at Biden has almost no comments. Ther Biden piece, and some others I have skimmed farther into the past, have one thing in common though.

They go out of their way to point at 1st amendment encroachments on both sides.

This one, and the one Yesterday taking aim at the NRA, do not.

On balance, I also see more blasting of the NRA than any comparable gun control group.

I can hope that most of the imbalance comes from the focus on the 1st amendment and its obvious close ties to anything that happens on the internet (communication) coupled with an understandable obsession among techies with video game related issues, but holy cow.

I sure am sick of it for the last two days.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Mostly Not About Guns

Right. Like I said, I think Mike shys away from engaging in the 2nd amendment debate because he feels it’s a little off topic for the site. 1st amendment issues directly affect the tech community. 2nd amendment ones, not so much. I HAVE seen a fair amount of commentary though from several of the regulars that is pro 2nd amendment.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Mostly Not About Guns

And I too as a pro 2nd amendment supporter am embarrassed by the NRA’s response to recent events. The NRA actually does a lot of good when it comes to education and traing for gun safety. However when they respond to these sorts of things by taking the easy road of scapegoating the media, they hurt the cause. I think THAT is what Mike and the other authors were trying to highlight. Both the 1st AND 2nd amendments are important. In fact, the 1st amendment is one of the reasons for the 2nd.

shane (profile) says:

Re: Re: democracy?

I dunno what flavor political person you are, but I am recently at pains to remind Republicans of how easy it would have been to win the last election.

Your taxes go up this year?

Yeah, yeah they did…..

Maybe campaign on something besides protecting the wealthiest people from a SMALL tax raise when the economy is in the tank and the deficit is mounting up like zombies in a “Resident Evil” movie.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: democracy?

The answer is the are both corrupt. Much of the problem could be solved with again a very simple solution – a basic reading comprehension test. I mean if you cannot correctly answer what simple phrases like “Congress shall make no law”, “shall not be infringed”, or “for a limited time” mean, you are disqualified from being a public servant.

Anonymous Coward says:

There is a simple solution to this problem

Just as gun ownership requires a level of responsibility, so should the acquisition of personal information from public records. The law could be amended to reflect this. Public information could still be made available but require an agreement that carries liability if used in an improper manner. Of course, defining what constitutes improper use is would have to be strictly clarified and I don’t pretend that that would be an easy task. However, I think it is a worthy step in the right direction. As Aaron wrote in his manifesto, “Information is power.” Information is far more powerful than any gun has ever been.

shane (profile) says:

A new age?

The default economy for thousands of years has been one based on the forced labor of the majority. Today, read any number of financial “success” books, and you will discover the concept that if you have to work to make money, it is a job.

You only have a business if someone else is doing the work.

This concept, usually wrapped in the colorful garb of “entrepreneurship”, is really just the latest manifestation of “Power 101”.

Nobody, NOBODY, does enough work or is intelligent enough to organize systems to legitimize their pay being ten, twenty, one hundred times the median average.

The way this is maintained is also quite ancient. First, establish a sense of authority behind your wealth. Second, use that sense of authority to excuse the use of violence to maintain the status quo.

When the sense of authority is threatened, they always, ALWAYS resort to violence to maintain it. What good did the peaceful resistance do for them in China? Or how many decades are we supposed to wait for peaceful resistance to work.

That’s why we have Article I Section 8 in the US Constitution, and that’s why we have the second amendment. We have the right, and the responsibility, to stop our government, by force if necessary, when it oversteps its bounds.

We are way behind. We do not have a well regulated militia any longer, in no small part because neither the Democratic nor the Republican party represents the people. They represent different portions of our elites, and even more idiotic, they trade off issues every few years because the two parties themselves are nothing but massive institutions bent on self preservation. They literally stand for nothing at all anymore, if indeed ever they did.

So all this nonsense about keeping track of guns really needs to go. If you are serious about transforming this nation and this world, you’re going to have to come to grips with the fact that these big boys are not going anywhere because of your online petitions. They will reroute, and reroute, and end around, and work and work and work until they get what they want.

Frankly, even if you did away with all IP, they still will get what they want in the end. Ultimately, fairness for artists or anyone else is the last thing on their minds.

If you want justice, you are going to have to start caring about justice, and you are going to have to think in terms of a government whose roots are deeply and firmly grounded in a just population, the vast majority of whom are able and willing to fight for that justice, even to the death if it comes to that.

This is not a new age. It’s the same old ancient age of humanity as has always existed. Technology has not changed mankind. It has simply upped the stakes.

shane (profile) says:

West Point Think Tank Comes Out Against Republican Party


“Oh, you’re so paranoid. OUR government would never interfere with the political process. Needing a gun to defend yourself from the government is just paranoid….”


The Real Michael says:

Re: West Point Think Tank Comes Out Against Republican Party

Actually, no, it’s not paranoid to own a gun for protection against potentially hostile government. That was the primary reason for its inclusion, because our forefathers had the foresight to know that without the proper safeguards, the government could turn rouge at any time. The Washington Times, much like practically every other major newspaper, is nothing but a tool for government propaganda. Our government is no less capable of evil than any other and are anything but trustworthy. Ever since 9/11, they’ve been violating people’s rights left and right.

The Constitution doesn’t come with an expiration date; it is the supreme law of the land. And it’s non-negotiable.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: West Point Think Tank Comes Out Against Republican Party

They are right in that you don’t need a gun to defend against any government, what you need are explosives and the know how to use them.

You don’t fight tanks with bullets, you use bombs, you don’t go after armored vehicles with bullets unless you want to get slaughtered.

What you do need however is the knowledge to produce your own weapons to counter governments that go rogue, if you ever need to.

Anonymous Coward says:

Lets publish your personal information

Hey little pussy cushing… Lets publish your home address for all to see… Lets do it one better then, lets publish a complete inventory of your home so every law abiding criminal can pick and choose what they take…

Only a fucking FOOL would think it’s acceptable to publish a list of homes that have firearms in them, and only a fucking retard would think it’s an assault on the freedom of information…

This article has gone one step too fucking far

Capitalist Lion Tamer (profile) says:

Re: Lets publish your personal information

Only a fucking FOOL would think it’s acceptable to publish a list of homes that have firearms in them, and only a fucking retard would think it’s an assault on the freedom of information…

Without delving into your first paragraph (nothing in it worth noting), let’s take a look at this part.

At no point during any of my posts on this subject have I indicated that I think what the News Journal did was acceptable. At best, it was something it did acting “within its rights,” which is miles away from “being right,” especially in this situation. What I’m looking at is the fallout of that action and I’m seeing some quick gut-level reactions in lawmakers that hold the possibility of making everything more opaque for everybody.

Anonymous Coward says:

Home alarms

Most cities require you to register/purchase a permit for your home to have an alarm in it. Lets publish a list of homes with these permits too… Now all the criminal has to do is cross reference this list with the gun list and now they have the perfect little shopping list.

I think anyone wishing to publish the personal information of someone else needs first to publish their own.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Weirder and weirder

Just a wild guess here but I suspect that is for better response times when an incident occurs that triggers the alarm and warrants a response from the police. Then again you can call 911, give them your address, tell them you heard shots fired outside your house and that you saw kids running down the street immediately afterwards, and no one shows up so I’m not sure how effective it is.

Mr. Applegate says:

Re: Weirder and weirder

In most of the areas I am aware of registration is required when a system or monitoring agency will be notifying emergency services. Most areas also impose fines for multiple false alarms.

Some cities also require registration for an external alarm that might disturb the neighbors.

The reasons are pretty simple. They need to quickly find addresses with alarms and they need to know who to fine for false alarms.

weneedhelp - not signed in says:

Re: Weirder and weirder

Our vet told us we had to register… now get this… our dog with the township.

They are using any excuse to get our info. Not just where we live, if we have alarms, guns, dogs, cars, financial info, and every aspect of our lives. Who we talk to, email, what we buy, where we travel, who we see.

Anonymous Coward says:

I was reading this thread and I thought I do something different, instead of asking my own questions I compiled a sample of the questions being asked to see what the fuzz is all about.

– Are medical records equal to gun records?
– What are the boundaries of my privacy?
– What are the records the government have? how are they used?
– Are public records a threat to individual privacy?
– Why are people so scared about their privacy?
– Is a right a right when someone needs to ask permission to have it?
– What are the public records disclosure effects?
– FOIA should be limited if it conflicts with privacy of individuals? – What could it happen? how could it be abused?


Normally I like and agree with Tim’s posts but not this time, in this case I think this post is taking the wrong stance and off base. My rights as a citizen outweigh the public’s right to know what I have in my house.

– Should every privacy concern be regarded as overuling any other social needs? what are the consequences of that? how can it be abused?
– Who is collecting data and for what purpose?
– Proposed rule: Personal identifying information should always be redacted before disclosure.
– Do I have a right to control how my personal information is disclosed?
– Disclosure of gun ownership can lead to increased crime against gun owners?
– Transparency and privacy overlap? are they incompatible? or are just some areas that come into conflict? can it be fixed, what are the consequences? how can it be abuse?
– Do public records can facilitate government abuse?

People are funny, if it was an alleged criminal, nobody would defend privacy or create any rules about privacy or probably force others to make an exception, but now that soe are feeling the heat about public disclosure of just one database that exists today they want more strong privacy rules and don’t care about what could happen to important things like government transparency, and how unscrupulous people would seize this moment to abuse it for their own purposes.

The majority of questions here appears to be from people who didn’t think through all the issues yet.

Jasmine Charter (user link) says:

Just stupid...

While I normally do not like exceptions to FOIA, in this case, I believe it is for the best since there are just too many stupid people out there with no common sense.

Really?! Publishing a database of gun owners that basically created an easy to use shopping list for criminals and a easy to find retired/active police officers families is NOT COOL.

There is such a thing as TOO MUCH TRANSPARENCY…

Cases in point …. the time I walked in on my parents when I was 10… Yuck! And the 400+ lb person sitting completely nude at the whirlpool at the gym… again… TOO MUCH TRANSPARENCY!

Chris Brand says:

unwarranted harassment

Having followed a number of court cases where there are lots of arguments about the exact meaning of specific words used in the legislation, I’m waiting to see lawyers arguing about this phrasing.
“The legislation included the word “unwanted”. That word must have been put there for a reason. The reason must be to distinguish it from “wanted harassment”. Clearly to the person receiving the harassment, it’s always unwanted, so this must refer to the person doing the harassing, to distinguish it from “accidental harassment”. So as long as the person doing the harassing does so intentionally, it’s not covered by this statute”.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: unwarranted harassment

unwanted or unwarranted? It makes a big difference.

Unwarranted would imply that there are times when harassment IS warranted which would be an interesting legal rabbit hole to go down. I can see it now. A defendant in a civil suit doesn’t deny harassing the plaintiff but rather tries to justify that the actions were warranted. Sounds to me like time to grab the popcorn.

Unwanted harassment is simply redundant as if it’s wanted it’s not really harassment then is it?

John Doe says:

The funny part of this

The funny part of what the paper did was to publish a list of non-gun owners, making them potential targets for home invasions. Why break into a gun owner’s home and risk getting shot?

I do not think there should be exemptions to public data, but I also think there should be no list of gun owners. It shouldn’t require a permit to carry. Criminals carry w/o a permit, why should law abiding citizens be required to get a permit? Does having a permit automatically mean you will always abide by the law?

As for the governor granting the police an exemption, can he do that? Is he the King of New York? Does the state not have a separation of powers like the federal government? If the governor can allow people to ignore the law, he is effectively creating law. But then again, he is only following Obama’s lead.

Tyler Whitney (user link) says:

Agree with the Others

I agree with DCL and the others posting here. FOIA is for GOVERNMNET not for people to find information on other people. We are treating gun owners like sex offenders now? I have a pistol permit, but I have yet to purchase a pistol and I will be filling this law out. Tim is obviously very biased on this one. Generally I vote democrat/liberal, but I’m a firm believer in the right to own guns as well as privacy, and this is clearly a breach of privacy.

One thing that seems obvious to me is that the crazies out there who CANNOT LEGALLY OWN GUNS BECAUSE THEY ARE CRAZY can then easily target gun owners based on the free information AND ADDRESSES they got from these requests (like the newspaper that released names and addresses of tons of gun owners in the region). Then anybody who wants to go on a killing spree will simply “Google” a gun owner nearby and break into their house when they are at work or on vacation to steal their gun. So stupid. Lets just give everybody a map of who to steal from when you need a gun quick.


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