Digitizing and Disclosing Personal Data: The Proliferation of State Criminal Records on the Internet

49 Pages Posted: 28 Dec 2020

See all articles by Sarah Lageson

Sarah Lageson

Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey - School of Criminal Justice

Elizabeth Webster

Loyola University of Chicago

Juan Sandoval

University of California, Irvine, School of Social Ecology, Department of Criminology, Law and Society

Date Written: October 25, 2020

Abstract

Digitization and the release of public records on the Internet have expanded the reach and uses of criminal record data in the United States. This study analyzes the types and volume of personally identifiable data released on the Internet via two hundred public governmental websites for law enforcement, criminal courts, corrections, and criminal record repositories in each state. We find that public disclosures often include information valuable to the personal data economy, including the full name, birthdate, home address, and physical characteristics of arrestees, detainees, and defendants. Using administrative data, we also estimate the volume of data disclosed online. Our findings highlight the mass dissemination of pre-conviction data: every year, over ten million arrests, 4.5 million mug shots, and 14.7 million criminal court proceedings are digitally released at no cost. Post-conviction, approximately 6.5 million current and former prisoners and 12.5 million people with a felony conviction have a record on the Internet. While justified through public records laws, such broad disclosures reveal an imbalance between the “transparency” of data releases that facilitate monitoring of state action and those that facilitate monitoring individual people. The results show how the criminal legal system increasingly distributes Internet privacy violations and community surveillance as part of contemporary punishment.

Suggested Citation

Lageson, Sarah and Webster, Elizabeth and Sandoval, Juan, Digitizing and Disclosing Personal Data: The Proliferation of State Criminal Records on the Internet (October 25, 2020). Law and Social Inquiry, Forthcoming, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3718644 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3718644

Sarah Lageson (Contact Author)

Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey - School of Criminal Justice ( email )

123 Washington Street
Newark, NJ 07102-309
United States

Elizabeth Webster

Loyola University of Chicago ( email )

25 East Pearson Street
Chicago, IL 60611
United States

Juan Sandoval

University of California, Irvine, School of Social Ecology, Department of Criminology, Law and Society ( email )

United States

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