Judging public records policies

If it has not already, the Internet will force policy-makers to review whether

criminal records should continue to be public information, a pair of judges

said Thursday.

Information should be available, but not to the extent that any casual

Internet surfer could sift through criminal records, California Superior

Court judge Thomas Cecil and former Massachusetts trial court judge Gordon

Martin Jr. agreed. The two addressed an audience of law enforcement and

IT professionals at the National Conference on Privacy, Technology and Criminal

Justice Information.

Cecil said he is in favor of putting some information online — but not

information from family court, probate court and juvenile court.

He said making such records available online would shatter "de-facto

privacy," which exists because the time and expense needed to retrieve a

criminal record dissuades people from retrieving such information.

Martin said that although he favors opening juvenile courts to the public

because people have a right to know how the system deals with children,

he said he does not believe such records should be available on the Internet.

With the information available, but not posted online, it will fall into

"practical obscurity," he said, only allowing scrutiny to those who make

the effort to search for the information.

A court should have a Web site that provides directions, juror information

and similar resources that will help the public make better use of the court,

but not information available to the "midnight browser," he said.

A survey gauging the public's attitude toward using criminal history

information also was released at the conference. The survey showed that

adults say the misuse of personal information is a concern. Sixty-four percent

said they are "very concerned," and 25 percent said they are "somewhat concerned."

The national telephone survey was conducted from February to March and

involved interviews with 1,030 adults.

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