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
"You're not against progress or a Luddite if you think some information
should not be on the Internet," Swire said.
NEXT STORY: Lockheed, Cisco team up in fed space