Privacy issues hit home on local level

In Durham, N.C., police find their needs for privacy clash with what local officials want to post on the Internet

The long-running struggle between personal privacy and the public's right

to know has entered a new phase in the Internet age, and some of the most

vigorous battles are being fought at the state and local level, according

to Peter Swire, the president's advisor on privacy.

In Durham, N.C., for example, local police have long made it a practice

not to have listed phone numbers and not to have their addresses listed

where they are readily available to the public.

"It is common in many communities," Swire said. Police do not want to

make it easy for criminals to find them and retaliate for arrests and imprisonment.

Not surprisingly, the police were concerned when they learned that Durham

city officials planned to post city property records on the Internet. After

spelling out safety concerns to the city council, the police convinced Durham

officials not to include owners names on the online property records, although

they have been included on paper records stored in files in city offices.

However, the police were unable to win similar cooperation from local

county officials, Swire told a conference of law enforcement officials and

computer specialists in Washington, D.C., Wednesday.

Despite police objections, county officials went ahead with plans to

put county tax records on the Internet, including the names of all property

owners. In addition, county officials planned to post blueprints of houses

since blueprints were available in the paper files maintained at the county

courthouse, Swire said.

The county's action raises the question, Should all information automatically

go on the Web just because it's available in paper form? Swire asked.

His answer is a resounding "No."

"Someone who is planning an attack on a house" probably would not go

to a local courthouse, where his face would be seen and his name might be

taken, to study blueprints in property records. But having the information

on the Internet makes it much more readily available, increasing the danger

to police.

"You're not against progress or a Luddite if you think some information

should not be on the Internet," Swire said.

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