Australian Civil Liberties Union
Is CrimeNet A Threat To Civil Liberties?
The national listing of peoples' criminal records at http://www.crimenet.com.au on the Internet website labelled CrimeNet, claims to be "the world's first site to provide a complete information service on criminal records,stolen property,missing persons, wanted persons,con artists and unsolved crimes." It also assures us that "CrimeNet is the premier source for protecting yourself,our loved ones and your property from crime. Our goal is to provide you with the information you need to protect yourself."
The manager of CrimeNet, Roy Hampton, a former Victorian policeman, has denied that it will violate civil liberties, claiming that the information was on the public record, and simply made availability of information easier. He commented that "if someone has handed over their civil rights by being involved in a major crime then that is their fault and the public has a right to know."
Raymond Hoser, a police reformer who has written several books on corruption in the police force, especially Victoria Police, claims that information on the CrimeNet website is unreliable, and has urged people that want factual information on Victoria Police to access his website at http://www.smuggled.com/Bsearch.htm for any information.
The CrimeNet website expresses its philosophy: "the management and staff (of CrimeNet) are very concerned about the threats made by some politicians and media to close down the CrimeNet site. We believe this to be a threat to the free flow of information in a democratic society, and a threat to your right to arm yourself with knowledge about criminals,criminal activities,con artists and scams. We believe that CrimeNet can give people the knowledge to prevent themselves becoming future victims of crime.
"CrimeNet only publishes information that is on the public record. We simply collate it and make it accessible to the public.It has always been available, in collated form, to government agencies.
"In the criminal records of the site, CrimeNet is concerned with publishing details of serious and dangerous repeat offenders. We do not publish offenders' address details. We do not publish details of minor offences, unless the offender is in a position of public trust, such as a politician (maybe this is why some politicians don't like us) We are ready to discuss with the Privacy Commissioner the removal of details of persons who have not reoffended for a period of years.If you believe in our mission, we ask you to contact your members of parliament and express your support of CrimeNet."
These comments set out the scope of the site and it has been very popular with users, scoring massive numbers of hits. It is also comprehensive. It started with a list of about 4,000 names but is constantly being added to. The CrimeNet operators insist that they are performing a public service.
However, civil libertarians have been concerned that the CrimeNet website may pose problems to those persons listed that will violate their personal freedoms. It will make resettlement of offenders back into the community harder, because it is a constant record of their past misdemeanours. The ACLU has already received several complaints from people with criminal records who have settled back into the community and would not like their past to be permanently held against them.The ACLU President, John Bennett, said on Channel 9, on various radio stations, and in the Herald-Sun, 2/5/2000, that it could hurt efforts by criminals to go straight or be used to hound them from their homes.
"It's an invasion of privacy and it could well be misused", he said. "It could make even the choice of a neighbourhood by someone convicted of a crime difficult.Neighbours could access what's on the database, making it difficult for a convicted person to be re-established in the community."It could lead to vigilante action against past offenders.
Juries could be biased by having access to information about accused peoples' past convictions. Operators of the website may be charged with contempt of court and trials could be aborted, if the outcome of a trial was likely to be prejudged by this release of information.
The site records are set up in such a way that releases on appeal and quashed convictions are not listed.
Victorian Attorney-General Rob Hull expressed concern with CrimeNet and said he would raise the issue as a matter of priority with attorney-generals in other states and territories. If a newspaper were to publish details of a suspect's past criminal record during a trial, the jurors could be influenced by this and the trial would be halted.
According to the President of the Western Australian Council of Civil Liberties, Mr Peter Weygers, two-thirds of people convicted of a crime never offended again, yet this system would ensure that they would be constantly harrassed.
According to "Australian IT" in The Australian newspaper, 30/5/00, p. 33, CrimeNet has been declared in contempt of court by the DPP and may be liable for contempt of court in other instances., As a result, CrimeNet is reported to be considering a move to sell the site to overseas interests that is out of range of any liability for "contempt of court", being outside Australian jurisdiction.
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Australian Civil Liberties Union