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Washington State Site Revealing Police Data Ruled OK

timothy posted more than 11 years ago | from the checks-and-balances dept.

Censorship 33

gnarly writes "NYT reports that the courts have struck down a law which censored posting of personal data of police officers, (home phones, SSN, etc, obtained from public sources) on a single website." (The decision in this case took place in U.S. District Court in May.)

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fp (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#6423578)

CTRL+T (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#6423587)

(Think to spelling)

Can't have it both ways... (5, Insightful)

Gunsmithy (554829) | more than 11 years ago | (#6423596)

Even though being an officer of the law could mean a higher rate of targeting of abuse, public information like that should be available on everyone or noone.

You just can't have it both ways.

Re:Can't have it both ways... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#6423691)

Why didn't you post your name, address, telephone number, and SSN in that post then? Don't you want people to know your "public information?"

Is it not ironic.... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#6426715)

...that you harass him about it as an AC?

Re:Can't have it both ways... (5, Insightful)

ketan (3574) | more than 11 years ago | (#6423704)

I wouldn't be so quick to draw such a line. Cops are targets far more than the average citizen is. Chances are, if you are a victim of a crime, it's either random or committed by someone you know. Police officers, on the other hand, have hundreds of violent criminals who would like revenge on them. Being a cop is dangerous, but many are willing to take the risk for the greater good. But what if the risk extended to when they weren't in uniform? Or to their familes? Things like this would make it a lot harder to recruit police officers, that's for sure. I guess you feel differently, but I'm not so willing to dismiss this real danger. Or perhaps I'm misunderstanding you, and what you're advocating is uniform privacy, in which case I'm on board.

Re:Can't have it both ways... (1)

Gunsmithy (554829) | more than 11 years ago | (#6423723)

I'm misunderstanding you, and what you're advocating is uniform privacy, in which case I'm on board. Bingo.

Re:Can't have it both ways... (2, Insightful)

rmohr02 (208447) | more than 11 years ago | (#6425491)

Well, there are many other jobs that make people be targetted like cops, such as DAs (a moot point if you read the website), PIs, nearly all public officials, and, to some extent, journalists. Also, if I'm arrested the police get my fingerprints and DNA on record, even if it's later found that I had nothing to do with the crime in question.

Now, if the cops have me in a database, and have no justification for putting me in it, why do I not have the same rights to put cops in a database?

That said, I do not promote putting anyone in a public database. I do not mind what cops do with fingerprints and DNA, because it does help catch criminals, and the database is private.

Re:Can't have it both ways... (1)

Thu Anon Coward (162544) | more than 11 years ago | (#6432267)

Chances are, if you are a victim of a crime, it's either random or committed by someone you know

gee, what would that add up to? maybe a 100%? you sure picked a winning statement there...either random or done by someone I know. what are the odds of THAT happening?

Re:Can't have it both ways... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#6435895)

The point is that with a cop it can be done by someone they don't know but the person knows the cop. A cop arrests alot of people possibly they don't remember them all but most people would remember who arrested them. So with a cop it is random, someone you know or someone you don't know but who knows you.

Re:Can't have it both ways... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#6437974)

Just like working at 7-11.

Re:Can't have it both ways... (1)

hackwrench (573697) | more than 11 years ago | (#6424332)

How is having public information on some people having it both ways and why can't you have it that way?

Re:Can't have it both ways... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#6425462)

Yes you can

1) Police identity theft is different than others. In some states police officers can purchase weapons without as much scrutiny as others.

2) When a bunch of drunk idiots crash a cops house and he lawfully kills them, the same people who think this is a good idea will be whining and screaming like little girls.

3) It really doesn't matter anyway. Once someone starts posting judges' information on the net, all this crap will be illegal.

Good & Bad (5, Insightful)

Clanner (24684) | more than 11 years ago | (#6423801)

On the one hand, I have to agree with another poster in that being a law enforcement officer shouldn't grant you more privacy than an ordinary citizen. On the other hand, it's too bad that the law in question wasn't more specific, like just banning SSN's. We need some sort of protection from abuse of SSN's- they were never designed to be the universal ID number that they are now, and it's far too easy to commit identity theft with SSN's being relatively easy to acquire...

Precedent contradists this (3, Insightful)

Kalak (260968) | more than 11 years ago | (#6424056)

IIRC, there is a anti-abortion group that was putting information on abortion doctors on the web that was forced to remove the site as they were used for murdering the doctors listed. I wish I could remember the name of the site, and searching for anti-abortion or pro-life will get me more hits than I care to wade through. Anyone remember the case I'm talking about here?

And this seems like a public TIA targeted towards police officers. We don't want it applied towards us, I certainly don't want it publically applied to police officers who get people pissed off at them daily trying to protect us. It's not like he's publishing a few involved in a specific complaint.

He's expainding following this ruling to include all the people he can in the criminal justice system. He's not just giving their work addresses, but their personal info. TIA for the criminal justice system for Washington State!

I'm glad I don't have a job there. If he was targeting my state, in my field, my personal info would be immediadately accessable on the web just because I work for someone: Not because I pissed someone off, but just because I have a job!

Re:Precedent contradists this (2, Informative)

Chmarr (18662) | more than 11 years ago | (#6424482)

IIRC, there is a anti-abortion group that was putting information on abortion doctors on the web that was forced to remove the site as they were used for murdering the doctors listed. I wish I could remember the name of the site, and searching for anti-abortion or pro-life will get me more hits than I care to wade through. Anyone remember the case I'm talking about here?

Sorry, you don't recall correctly. The right to list the abortion doctor's names was upheld in just the same way in the case in the article. you can visit the site here [] if you really want to. Doctors names and addresses are on this page [] .

Re:Precedent contradists this (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#6427357)

Someone should put Jesus Christ's personal information on the web. That would give that website a taste of it's own medicine.

Scary, more information for maniacs... (1)

angeles13 (443205) | more than 11 years ago | (#6424408)

I have a real problem with this. Most people that law enforcement come across will not go after the officer (and their family). It's the few in society that have the serious grudges against any type of authority figure that would use this information to harm and kill the officers, and possibly their family as a way to mentally subjugate and harass them.

In a psychotic mind, what would be a better way to inact some twisted, perverted, revenge than to kidnapped or kill the child of a police officer. This sets a bad precident.

And as one who has lived through this type of scenario growing up as a child, this does not make for a good childhood.

Maybe fear of retribution will keep cops honest (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#6439173)

Fear of retribution helps keep cops honest. Too many cops are criminals (i.e. more than zero cops). Perhaps fear of vigilante justice would make the cops behave.

I have no respect for the police. Every cop I've ever met was a) lazy, b) incompetant, c) corrupt. Of course this doesn't mean all cops are lazy, incompetant and corrupt, but 100% of the cops I've had the misfortune to deal with were. Anything to limit the power of the police to harass and annoy is a good thing in my mind.

Somewhat okay (1)

Redbw6 (682930) | more than 11 years ago | (#6424574)

I believe that having the police officer's names, numbers, etc. is okay but I don't think that posting anyones SNN, whether they're a police officer or lawyer, is okay. That number has too much information on a person to give out to the public.

Re:Somewhat okay (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#6424610)

Providing SSN's just isn't a good idea. Once word gets out about the site, criminals can rest at ease knowing that they can find whatever cop they want when the get out and do as the please. Well anyway, here's william sheehans info off of whois. I don't think he'd object.

Name:William Sheehan
Organization:William Sheehan
Street1:914 - 164th St SE #293
City:Mill Creek
Postal Code:98012

Civil liability? (0, Flamebait)

Dachannien (617929) | more than 11 years ago | (#6424579)

I suppose this was a victory for hard-line free-speech advocates and various other extreme hippies everywhere, but it just seems like a phenomenally bad idea to take advantage of this ruling. I mean, as others have mentioned, a cop gets whacked by someone who gets this information, and the next thing you know, the cop's family is suing the maintainers of the website.

There are good ways to work against the "establishment". This sure isn't one of them - after all, "pigs" are people, too.

Re:Civil liability? (1)

Homology (639438) | more than 11 years ago | (#6424869)

This not quite as clear cut as it seems, since there are conflicting interests of good : privacy versus transparency of power that be. Let me give a couple of examples :

A leftist radical news paper in Norway - in cold war era of the 70ties - collected public information (news paper articles, public records etc) in order to map US listening stations in Norway. This was published in the news paper, and at least one of the journalists was sentenced.The real controversial part is that they where not sentenced for spying (they did not), but that the collection of public available material and publicising an analysis was indeed judged classified. Many years later they where exonerated. Bad or good?

Perhaps a more nearer example for US readers is Watergate. The two journalist used the phonebook of "Comitte for Relection of Richard Nixon" (or similar name) to map out the organizational structure, and where thus able to penetrate the whole mess. Good or bad?

Re:Civil liability? (1)

Dachannien (617929) | more than 11 years ago | (#6434794)

Actually, I consider it to be more clear-cut than that. The examples you cited appear to be on the "good" side - at least, unless Communist agents in 1970s Norway would have been likely to kill US agents at the listening stations.

The issue here is that police officers could be targeted and killed serially with the information published. It may be legal to do it, and it may be an exercise of free speech liberties, but it is still a bad idea.

Re:Civil liability? (0, Flamebait)

Dachannien (617929) | more than 11 years ago | (#6434836)

Apologies to the extreme hippies who were offended enough by my post to rate it as flamebait.

Re:Civil liability? (1)

Dachannien (617929) | more than 11 years ago | (#6437187)

What, you people are still reading this? I've got karma to spare. :P

law unconstitutional, website morally wrong (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#6424668)

Actually, I agree that passing a law to protect the public information of police and corrections officers is wrong. As others said, it should be for everyone or no one. I can easily see that law being unconstitutional.

I do have a problem with the website, though. If nothing else, it's damn close to libelous. To quote one section on an officer of Kirkland:

"The reason his father and mothers information is listed here is a simple one, they have a lengthy case history of helping each other in evading taxes and other civil responsibilities"

Hell, it's vague and accusatory about people who aren't even police officers (his targets). (And what the hell counts as "other civil responsibilities? Helping grannies cross the street?)

It also appears that the judge ordered the website owner to remove the SSNs [] . That would be great, except he still has the old version up with a link to it.

Essentially, reading the site makes me wonder how reliable the information is. A lot of it is very vague. (For example, salary figures of about $4,000. Is that per week? Biweekly? Monthly?) Besides, if a man doesn't bother to doublecheck his grammar and spelling, how reliable is he on his facts?

So, while he has a right to do this, the implementation makes me uneasy. May he get enough information wrong that someone sues the bejesus out of him.

Free Information vs. Convenient Information (3, Insightful)

Dr. Mu (603661) | more than 11 years ago | (#6424729)

While I generally take a libertarian stance regarding freedom of information, I think the law needs to evolve a little bit beyond treating all publicly-available information alike. Granted, the data on the site in question were all obtained from publicly-accessible sources. But gathering it into one convenient repository, it seems to me, makes it more than just quantitatively distinct. There's a qualitative aspect to it as well that makes the repository different, in substance, from the sum of its disparate parts.

To cite a parallel example in meatspace, obtaining the individual components to make an explosive might be legal -- with some effort. But that doesn't give someone the right to open a Bombs R Us franchise, where the same components are available under one roof with convenient onsite parking and a loading dock. At some point, the same principles will have to be applied to "free" information.

Perhaps one way to deal with this conundrum is to consider not only what the information is, but what you have to know to get to it -- i.e. how it's indexed. If I know the name of a police officer, for example, I can look up his/her phone number in the phone directory. But I can't find that same number by looking under "Police Officers" in the Yellow Pages. A directory that allows me to do that would be qualitatively different from the phone book, even though it yields the exact same content.

We haven't heard the last of this issue by a long shot. The next couple decades will truly be interesting!

Didn't find any SSNs but I did find my mom... (2, Interesting)

haut (678547) | more than 11 years ago | (#6424740)

My mom works for the Department of Corrections in WA and I just quickly and easily found out the following: Institution with code, Job title, Salary range, Salary step code, and Monthly salary. The database appears very complete, but I can't think of much more use that it would have than checking out what coworkers make per month. Those that are in the database, however, supposedly had notice that the information was public (my mom did).

Quick Solution (0, Flamebait)

jhunsake (81920) | more than 11 years ago | (#6425051)

I hope someone just puts a bullet in the back of his head and is done with it.

From the article... (3, Insightful)

RALE007 (445837) | more than 11 years ago | (#6425361)

...Brightening, Lieutenant Caldwell said some officers even welcomed the posting of their home addresses, if that encouraged Mr. Sheehan to visit.

"If he wants to drop by the house," Lieutenant Caldwell said, "the police officers would be more than happy to welcome him. We're all armed and trained..."

The website creators reason for the existence of the sight is due to his opinion of rampant corruption of WA police. My understanding is it is an attempt to make all officers think twice of their actions since they are real people and should not be able to hide behind a badge if they act out of the public good.

With the very public statement by Lieutenant Caldwell given to the New York Times, stating many officers desire to have Mr. Sheehan drop by since officers are "trained and armed" implies they would like nothing more than an excuse to injure or kill Mr. Sheehan for his perfectly legal efforts. With statements such as that, I find it very likely Mr. Sheehan's opinion of corruption to hold merit.

Lieutenant Caldwell's anger and frustration is understandable, but flagarent statements such as the one given, to the New York Times of all places, speaks volumes for Mr. Sheehan's claim.

Not TSG - I feel guilty for looking (3, Interesting)

Embedded Geek (532893) | more than 11 years ago | (#6425554)

O.K. I admit it. I had to look. I'm a big fan of The Smoking Gun [] and was hoping to find something similar. Instead, after peeking around, I have to face the obvious - this is a guy with an axe to grind. As such, I've decided against linking any of the specific pages back to my comment. Am I afraid of legal action? No. I would just feel, well, dirty. You want to see the pages firsthand? Go poking around it yourself. No one will stop you.

First, I'm not talking about SSNs and court records. I'll let a judge tackle those issues. I'm refering to the comentary the webmaster has added to the various pages, specifically the Kirkland PD (the only force I looked at in depth). Vicious stuff, although apparently just this side of actionable (or so the judgement would imply). I can see why Kirkland spent $200K spent trying to shut the site down (per the website). Free speech or not, it's an employer's duty to try to stand up for its people (just as its the judge's to protect the Constitution). Heck, I'd probably quit my job if my boss didn't take some action against a fullisade like this against his employees.

Three targets of note:

  • Prosecutor Margita Dornay-Noe - Mostly links to stories and commentaries from Seattle newspapers about scandals around her. She appears to be facing disbarment and other stuff over (multiple?) sex scandals, but the big thing that creeps me out is the little piece of grafitti at the bottom of the page. It depicts (what appears to be) a nude woman's privates, a keyhole, and what look like prison bars in the background. Man, Freud would have a field day with that one.
  • Phillip Goguen - No commentary, but some court filings, a map to the house, and a photo of his house (perhaps a real estate listing?). The photo also shows two vehicles and partial licence plates. Creepy.
  • Gene M. Markle - The crown gem of the site. Not much in the public record. Just a bankruptcy (the webmaster appears suprised that can happen to someone making $60K/year - naive or just grasping at straws?). But then the webmaster puts up a map to the guy's house and starts on a rant: "He's as corrupt as any officer in the city of Kirkland. This [the website's] author will have no problem saying that Gene Markle is a filthy liar that just loves abusing others with his badge to serve his own purposes sociopathic purposes... I have suffered directly at the hands of this maggots [sic] criminal actions, which is certain he takes great pleasure for [sic]. The sad truth is that there is a woman (his wife Roberta) that will actually let him have sex with her and bare [sic] children. Just typing these words makes me want to spray my computer screen with Lysol. Clearly his wife is of questionable reputation."

    I've gotta wonder about that last bit about his wife and kids with all the gramatical errors. If you read it fast, you can get the verbs messed up ("bare" or "bear"?) it seems to imply the officer is an incestous pedophile. Then again, I was expecting him to be hurling dirt from his tone, so I was primed for that sort of thing. Or perhaps it's my own filthy mind.

The fact is, this webmaster's got an axe to grind. His site is hateful and bitter, even if it is protected as free speech. I'd be curious what is out in the public records about this guy (did Markle write him a ticket? Bust him for something heavy?), but if such a suggestion ever registered on his radar I'm sure he'd throw it back at me (that's "Embedded Geek," by the way - two D's when you start skulking around after me, Chuckles).

It just goes how little it takes to get the domain ""

This is retarded policy. (1)

shotgunefx (239460) | more than 11 years ago | (#6449399)

Our family used to get death threats a lot due to my father being a PO. I answered my first when I was 5. I think this is a terrible idea. I still have to have all the shades drawn 25 years later because it's so ingrained. It's a very real threat to the police and their families.

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