Local News

Information On Police Web Sites Worry Local Residents

Posted February 23, 2006

— More than 700,000 people have their identity stolen every year, according to the U.S. Department of Justice. There is often a fine line when it comes to protecting personal information and ensuring the publics' right to know. Some people that worry local police departments are putting them at risk.

For one Durham woman, her concerns started with a minor traffic accident. But it's where the details ended up that concerns her.

"So much personal information was there for anyone to take and use as they wanted, " said Heidi.

Heidi's accident report wound up on the Durham Police Department's Web site. There's no need for a password there -- anyone can search for information. Reports reveal everything about drivers, even birth dates and driver's license numbers -- everything except a Social Security number.

"Anybody in the entire world has access to the information," said Heidi. "I don't think it's a public service, but a public menace."

Deputy Police Chief Ron Hodge has fielded plenty of complaints. But, his department isn't the only one posting the information. Raleigh police do it, as does Charlotte. North Carolina's general statute requires it.

"We are concerned about people's personal information out there," said Hodge. "But, right now our hands our tied in terms of what public records law says."

The Durham Police Department is switching to a system that allows officers to electronically file directly to the Division of Motor Vehicles. Once in the hands of the DMV, a federal privacy law kicks in, meaning no more public postings.

Durham does not have a specific timeline for switching to the new system. While the Raleigh Police Department is exploring other options for its accident reports, they have no immediate plans to change.

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