Criminal Justice

Police data initiatives come with crime victim safety concerns

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The police department in Dallas, where a crime data initiative was recently launched, accidentally published the names, ages and home addresses of six alleged sexual assault victims, the Washington Post reports. The agency says that the circumstance was because of a technical error and is working to make sure any report related to a sexual offense is filtered out of the system.

The White House in 2015 urged police to use data and technology to build community trust. Since then, according to the article, there are inconsistencies with how police departments scrub records they post, and each jurisdiction makes its own decision about what information will be released to the public.

“Of particular concern is the possibility that people who access open police data may be able to identify crime victims or reveal their locations. For victims of domestic violence and sexual assault, this could put their safety and security at risk,” Lorrie Cranor, the Federal Trade Commission’s chief technologist recently wrote at her blog, Tech@FTC.

She found that some police databases did not show the names of people in sexual assault cases, but allowed the names, addresses and ages of other crime victims to be published. And sometimes the databases withheld a victim’s name, but published his or her home address.

More than 50 jurisdictions participate in the White House data initiative, according to the Washington Post, and approximately 90 data sets have been made public.

See also:

ABA Journal: “Databases create access to police misconduct cases and offer a handy tool for defense lawyers”

ABA Journal: “Release of police info draws suspicion, but it helps some defense attorneys”

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