Legislators In North Carolina Want To Let Law Enforcement Hide Personal Info From Public Records
from the I-guess-we're-referred-as-'the-Public'-for-a-reason... dept
Often, it seems there are two sets of rules: the set we the public are expected to follow, and those that legislators, law enforcement and other government subsects follow. Sometimes, it’s not just something that feels that way. Sometimes, it actually is, like the discovery that lawmakers were profiting from inside trading. This prompted a quick change in laws to make legislators act like law-abiding citizens, but it was just as swiftly rolled back once the outrage had died down.
Legislators in North Carolina are now considering a bill that would give government employees and officials unprecedented control over public records — a “courtesy” that apparently won’t be extended to the public. (via Techdirt reader Jj)
Wake County Assistant District Attorney Colleen Janssen spoke before a House judiciary committee before it passed a measure allowing state and federal prosecutors, federal judges and police officers to remove any information that could be used to identify them from city and county websites. Such information could include local tax payments, property deeds and other records accessible to the public online.
It includes one small caveat.
Identifying information wouldn’t be removed from the actual records on file at local government offices.
Anyone with enough time on their hands can still head down and experience some quality face time at the local government office should they want to see the offline-only information, an interaction that will presumably be logged in some fashion, just in case.
Why is this bill even being considered? Because bad things happened once to this one person — who also happens to be a prosecutor.
A prosecutor recently targeted by kidnappers urged a legislative committee Wednesday to endorse a bill that would shield the identity of law enforcement officials online.
An indictment says alleged gang members kidnapped Janssen’s father, 63-year-old Frank Janssen, from his Wake Forest home in April and held him captive in an Atlanta apartment for five days before he was rescued by federal agents. The kidnappers had targeted the daughter as revenge for her prosecution of a gang member, but ended up at the wrong address and decided to abduct the father instead.
Janssen believes this law would help shield law enforcement members, along with the rest of the prosecution side of government, from those with “nefarious intentions.” Presumably, the general public will still be subjected to nefarious actions, since they aren’t being afforded the same luxury. Despite the fact that law enforcement has become a much safer occupation over the last 50 years, we are constantly told that the dangers are increasing, usually as a justification for misconduct, expanded surveillance or the acquisition of military equipment. Presumably, a world more dangerous for law enforcement would also be more dangerous for civilians, but very little thought is given to the wellbeing of the public. Instead, we get statements like this:
“Kidnapping and mortal danger are faced by state and federal prosecutors constantly.”
That’s from Robert Guthrie, the president of the National Association of Assistant United States Attorneys.
So, this would allow these parties to scrub online info, but the public’s can still be public, even though this information is used by “nefarious” people as well, like scam artists, vengeful ex-anythings (employees, spouses, etc.) and other members of the criminal element. But only the chosen few will be allowed to take public information out of public records.
And that few may only stay a few for a brief amount of time. If passed, the law would open the door for nearly any entity, inside the government or out, to claim that its members are adversely affected by the publication of personal information in public records and that they too should be allowed to scrub their identifying information as well.
If this goes through, North Carolina will have two sets of public records laws — one for whom danger is considered unacceptable and one for everyone else, where danger is expected to be just part of life.