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How Public Should Public Records Be? 175

Hobobo writes: "This article on the New York Times talks about whether public records that are available in local government offices should or shouldn't be available online. It also talks about the "practical obscurity" of people checking files in police offices and whatnot, and public records on the internet are "too public," and the privacy and freedom of information issues involved." If you'd like to try it, you can use "Giuliani" and "5/28/44".
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How Public Should Public Records Be?

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  • There are safeguards (Score:2, Informative)

    by Quila ( 201335 ) on Friday August 24, 2001 @07:40AM (#2212678)

    Most public records laws already have measures in place to safeguard personal privacy. Others, as in the article (I read it!) do need some work to account for personal privacy. A good example is, before records were finally given to APB news on judges' finances, personal information such as address, phone, etc., was redacted.

    Records being available in the Internet is very important. Check out [] to see how hard it is often to get public records in person, with demands to know why, see ID and attempted arrests (especially for public police records such as who's currently in jail). Internet access would allow people to get this information without fear of intimidation.

  • Re:A real issue (Score:2, Informative)

    by drsoran ( 979 ) on Friday August 24, 2001 @08:26AM (#2212754)
    Hell, people around here now are suprised to find that I can show them detailed information about their houses, purchase price, appraised values, floor layout, etc. This isn't some secret page, it's the county auditor's web site. Is it right to publish such previously obscure information? Who knows.. but everyone I talk to is definitely not comfortable with that being online so easily available. Before I believe you'd at least have to show your face to a public records office and pay a fee to request the information. That'd deter almost 99% of the people who are otherwise going around browsing this stuff.
  • by jrennie ( 79374 ) on Friday August 24, 2001 @09:39AM (#2212983) Homepage
    We're all afraid of what can happen now that (previously not-so-)public records are easy to access. I don't want people that I meet to be able to discover my entire life's history. Think about the impact this might have on getting a job. "Sorry, you're a great candidate, but we don't want to hire you because we did a public records search and found that you have 17 unpaid Boston parking tickets."

    Then again... U.S. society is gradually becoming less and less formal. Many people don't wear suits to work. Many issues which used to be taboo (sex, divorce, drugs) are more openly discussed. But, we're still quick to criticize people who have faults. Could making public information more readily available finally relax this high-view stereotype that we have? We're already progressing in that direction. Clinton wasn't stoned after his affair was publicized. Bush was elected president even though he had a serious drinking problem when he was young.

    With public records being easily accessible, we're going to have to get used to everyone having a "history." But, society does change with time. This is just another transition that society needs to go through. Sci-fi writers (e.g. Spielberg/Kubrik in A.I.) try to make us believe that people are static---they don't change with technology. But, they do. Aren't cars, planes and *nuclear missles* a bit more society-altering than a robotic boy? In some ways, this change will be great. It will allow us to discover when people have a seriously dangerous history (e.g. mass murder, millions of $$$ in credit card fraud, etc.). It will also bring our society to accepting things that normal people do (e.g. drinking in college, smoking pot, not paying parking tickets, etc.). We're all human. We make mistakes sometimes. We also occasionally just like to enjoy life and not think too much the future consequences of our actions.

    Anyway, making public records easy-to-access may seem like a terrible thing. But, they are public records. If someone *really* wanted to know your birthday & address, they would have been able to find it. Making them easily accessible helps those who don't have the time to search through all of the records. And, it will (hopefully) inject some much needed humanity into our society.


Each honest calling, each walk of life, has its own elite, its own aristocracy based on excellence of performance. -- James Bryant Conant