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.

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Comments on “Legislators In North Carolina Want To Let Law Enforcement Hide Personal Info From Public Records”

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11 Comments
AgonizingFury says:

safety for the government, none for families of sex offenders

Several innocent children have been murdered as a result of vigilantes targeting registered sex offenders, and many times more innocent adult family members as well. I guess since their children aren’t part of “the club” no one cares what happens to them.

Anonymous Coward says:

Not a new thing

It is the case in my county (not in NC) that police officers mailing addresses are replaced with PO box numbers on property appraisal records etc, the PO box numbers are provided by the police in the county where he works (which does not have the law-abiding populace imaginable). It’s been that way for at least 15 yrs, nothing new to see here. I know this because we live next to a police officer.

aerilus says:

I have a concealed weapons permit in nc. it was recently established that ccw holder info would not be public info that could be gotten with a foia request. a few weeks ago I got a letter from the existing sheriff saying that he had been a supporter of ccw laws and would I contribute to his campaign. As far as I know this person has been a good sheriff and has been in office for a long time without any scandal but he is using records that his oppenent isn’t going to have access to that are really for law enforcement use and using them for a campaign.

Anonymous Coward says:

Well I’ll be damned. I always wondered why almost every cop show on TV used the same tired plot over and over again.

You know the myth I refer to. Cop arrests bad guy. Bad-guy serves time. Bad guy spends fortune on plot to get revenge on cop.

Now I understand why its the plot of choice for TV.

I had thought they were simply “educating” the general rabble to believe the myth in order to make the public think that being a cop was extra dangerous due to comic-book bad-guys seeking revenge. I mean, the cops are such assholes these days that they really need the additional PR
– short for PRopaganda.

But apparently they were also educating the criminals, in the hopes that eventually some would do exactly that and help boost the “criminal revenge against cops” myth in the public’s mind. That it was a cracked addled street gang that pulled this off is not at all surprising.

And once again, BS-TV helps add another law and another nail to the coffin of American Justice.

Digger says:

Let me get this straight...

One time, one prosecutor had something bad happen, and now it’s to protect everybody involved with law enforcement?

Hmmm, how about the *THOUSANDS* of time’s innocent victims that aren’t in law enforcement have been injured, kidnapped or killed due to publicly available information? Hmmm?

How many law enforcement members were the ones doing the injuring, raping and killing? More times than they’d want to admit.

Sorry charlie, if anything, more information about members of law enforcement should be available online, not less.

Then maybe you wouldn’t act like total scumbags and do the job correctly.

Anonymous Coward says:

I always assumed the info was hidden

I had always assumed the information on cops and DA’s and such were hidden. It sort of makes since. Crook A gets arrested by Cop B. Gets out on parole, looks up Cop B in phone book using his name from the arrest report to find him and make sure he will not testify.

Maybe someone in law enforcement from other states can chime in?

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