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Privacy and Security of Criminal History Information Privacy and the Media

NCJ Number
Date Published
January 1979
This report describes the legal and policy aspects of the relationship between the news-gathering process and the criminal justice process.

The report describes the conflict between those who believe that most, if not all, of the workings of the criminal justice process ought to be public and those who believe that only some parts of that process should be public. Three interests are at issue: the public's interest in receiving sufficient information to effectively monitor and participate in the functioning of the criminal justice system; the defendant's interest in limiting the availability of embarrassing and stigmatizing information; and the criminal justice system's interest in limiting the availability of information that, if released, might undermine the system's effectiveness. Ultimately, the balancing of these three interests affects the relationship of citizens to both the body politic and the government. Consideration is given to assessing the role of the media and whether its function is representing the public, thereby meriting special rights. Policies and laws that control and shape media access to criminal justice information are summarized, especially since the issue of access to and handling of criminal justice records by the news media has become a major obstacle in the implementation of standards for the security and privacy of criminal justice information. Further discussion differentiates between types of criminal history record information, such as raw arrest information, chronologically filed data, and name-indexed cumulative records. Special situations, such as terrorism and hostage taking, are addressed with reference to the policy issues, legal standards, and special tensions caused by terrorist encouragement of media access and involvement. Media efforts to obtain information on government conduct and operations through access to criminal justice facilities (jails, prisons, trial courts, and other judicial proceedings) are considered in terms of free press and fair trial issues. The obverse of this process is examined in a discussion of governmental access to personal data of criminal justice interest held by the media. Every topical area is represented by arguments from both sides of the issue, and pertinent constitutional and statutory provisions are cited along with significant case law. Footnotes are provided; the appendix contains criminal justice information terminology.

Date Published: January 1, 1979