Thursday, March 25, 2004

An Indiana newspaper was thinking about publishing a list of CCW permit holders. For some background please see this previous post by Nicki & this previous post by me. The Ft. Wayne News-Sentinel decides to do the right thing.

"After listening to many of you and reading pages and pages of e-mails, as well as consulting experts in ethics and law enforcement, we've decided not to provide easier access to this public record on our Web site. The prospect of harm seems to outweigh the potential for public good. Those who want the information will have to request it from the State Police and pay $25 for it."

About 3,000 people contacted them & the vast majority of them opposed making the list public. What they didn't mention was that some bloggers contacted them & said if any CCW permit holders names are published then all the legally obtainable information of the newspapers staff will be posted on the net in blogs, message forums & any other venue that it can be posted in. I have no idea if that had any effect at all on their decision but I'd like to think so.

There were a few disturbing things mentioned in this paragraph towards the end of the article:

"While we reached this conclusion after much thought and discussion, anyone with programming skills could purchase the list from the state and provide searchable access to it online. So, while the debate over what The News-Sentinel does with the list is over, perhaps we've started a useful conversation about who should have easy access to this information. Twenty-one states allow the public at least some access to this data, and 23 close the records, while six states issue no permits, according to research by The Plain Dealer in Cleveland."

The Cleveland Plain Dealer is a paper in Ohio that threatened to do the same thing & bloggers responded appropriately. But that there's contact between the two papers is interesting.

But the first two sentences could be taken as a request from the newspaper for an anonymous individual to post the list on the net. Hell, I'm damn sure it is. If they feel that they shouldn't publish the list because the "...prospect of harm seems to outweigh the potential for public good..." then why are they suggesting that some other person or entity could post the list? It seems to me that they just want to avoid the responsibilty & consequences of publishing the list but they'd still like to see the list published.

They did list some of the more compelling pragmatic arguments for not publishing the list (while ignoring the principled ones) but then they turn around & mention that anyone with some basic computer knowledge could publish the list & perhaps the topic is still open for public discussion.

I'm glad (for a number of reasons) that they decided not to publish the list, but I am disappointed in their veiled plea for someone else to publish it for them.

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