When Is Public Data Private?

Jan 4 2013 @ 6:37pm

In the wake of the Newtown shooting, The Westchester Journal News put together a map, using publicly available data, showing the addresses of gun permit holders in Westchester, Rockland and Putnam counties in New York. Jack Shafer describes the backlash, which included a "crowdsourced map of the home addresses of Journal News employees — including their home and work phone numbers when found." He also considers the implications for privacy concerns more broadly:

Exactly how publishing public-record data constitutes privacy invasion is a topic worthy of a Poynter Institute seminar. By its very definition, the public record is not private. Under New York state law, the information the Journal News obtained from Westchester and Rockland county authorities can be obtained by anybody who asks for it. And even though it will deflate the sails of the boycotters, their protest is futile. No law prevents individuals from making the same pistol permit request from the counties and posting their own maps if Gannett and the Journal News surrender and delete theirs. I’d wager that somebody has already scraped the data from the Journal News site and will repost it if the paper goes wobbly.