According to this article in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, police departments and state legislatures are all confused about what kind of information is open to the public and what isn’t. Apperently, Assistant Attorney General Mary Burke made a statement at a criminal justice conference last month indicating that certain information from the Transaction Information for Management of Enforcement, or TIME database should not be made publicly available. Now, when I follow that link and read the overview of what the TIME database tracks I see:
“wanted and missing persons, stolen vehicles, persons on probation/parole, criminal history records, driver and vehicle registration records, persons subject to injunctions and restraining orders, and sex offender registrants”
Apparently, despite the immense utility that this database represents for Wisconsinites, if the Assistant Attorney General decides that a chunk of it ought not to be available to the public, then police departments across the state jump to start redacting. So, a request made last week for driver’s information = public information, but one made this week = no go. What if next week I’m curious about registered sex offenders in my neighborhood and that’s the week someone from the Attorney Generals office decided that that isn’t appropriate information for the public either?
Note that there is no law barring police departments from continuing to supply answers to public record requests that they receive regarding information in the TIME database. There is just a tenuous connection to a federal law (the Drivers Privacy Protection Act) meant to keep state agencies from selling driver information to third parties. That law reads:
“In General — Except as provided in subsection (b), a State department of motorvehicles, and any officer, employee, or contractor, thereof, shall not knowingly disclose orotherwise make available to any person or entity personal information about any individualobtained by the department in connection with a motor vehicle record.”
OK, well, let’s take a look at subsection (b):
“(b) Permissible Uses — (1) For use by any government agency, including any court or law enforcementagency, in carrying out its functions, or any private person or entity acting on behalf of aFederal, State, or local agency in carrying out its functions.”
And since “providing persons with such information [public records] is declared to be an essential function of a representative government and an integral part of the routine duties of officers and employees”then the DDPA can hardly be applied in this situation.
So what’s up with people blindly refusing to fulfill public record requests based on a statement from the Assistant Attorney General? (Not to mention what’s up with her statement in the first place, but that’s for another post.) I would like to think that the people charged with protecting the rights of all of us were using a little more careful thought and responsible action before making knee jerk reactions to statements made at conferences. I suspect that this is a mark of how frightened of lawsuits and other reprisals police departments in this state have become. Sigh.