The flow of information held by our government should be running more freely than ever given the technology now available. For many years federal courts have had all records accessible online. New York State's court system is slowly catching up.
Another strong example of improved electronic accessibility in recent years has been online property tax records. If you're buying or selling a home you can instantly look up the past history of assessments and taxes. If you're in the real estate business this kind of service is invaluable. Workers in that industry were shocked at the start of the New Year when Onondaga County suddenly eliminated the ability to search records by the name of a property owner.
Onondaga County Executive Joanie Mahoney said the Syracuse Police Department's asked her to restrict the flow of public information because one of their officers had been threatened by a past arrestee who looked up the officer's residence online. Once she made the change she also heard about a Sheriff's deputy who had a similar problem.
County Executive Mahoney is usually quite forward looking in making decisions. Not in this case. Instead the decision has set back increased public access. And it also reveals a sense of favoritism to those in law enforcement. Certainly there have been many people over the years who would prefer to hide their address from public data banks for various reasons of personal safety. The system was not changed for them.
The Onondaga County Clerk already has said she plans to post the data, including search by name, on her website if need be. This is a decision the county executive should reconsider. Police are entitled to feel safe in their homes, but that is going to take more than restricting online access to public records in a time when more digital accessibility should be the rule.
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