Lawmakers around the country are pushing for online registries, like those used for sex offenders, to track the whereabouts of people convicted of a wide variety of crimes, from arson and drunken driving to methamphetamine manufacturing and animal abuse.
State senators in Illinois are considering a law to create the nation’s first registry for first-degree murderers. In Maine, legislators are debating an online registry of drunken drivers. And proposals to register animal abusers have been put forward in several states; one such registry, in Suffolk County on Long Island, will become operational next week.
Under a canine version of Megan’s Law, Virginia even registers dangerous dogs, including Elvis, a cat-killing collie in Roanoke whose bad acts are among those listed on the state’s database.
Let's just go ahead and get this out of the way now: LOL. There, that's better.
Remember the first rule of crime and political capital: nothing sells soap (and votes) quite like scaring the sh*t out of people.
Advocates for online registries, many of them searchable by the public, argue that people have a right to know about potentially dangerous offenders in their midst and that the benefit of alerting parents, neighbors and others in a community outweighs any privacy concerns.
Representative Dennis Reboletti, the main sponsor of the House bill, said that it “would allow not only law enforcement, but also the community to know who resides here, who our family members are associating with and who our children are dating.”
“These are people who are lying in wait,” Mr. Reboletti said in a phone interview. “It’s cold. It’s calculated. It’s planned over time. And it’s one of the most evil things that somebody can do on this earth.”
Cue the apocalyptic music (hey, the world is supposed to end today, isn't it?).
Luckily, the article does present the "other side" of the issue, consisting of pointy heads, legal experts, and pesky facts and data suggesting that online registries (including sex offender registries) are pointless, serve no deterrent effect, and cost an enormous amount of money.
Critics say that while the registries are attractive to politicians who want to appear tough on crime, they often do little more than spread fear and encourage vigilantism.
The monitoring systems cost money at a time when recession-strapped states can ill afford the extra expense, the critics say, and their effectiveness is dubious: Sex offender registries, for example, have had little success in reducing repeat crimes, studies suggest.
Wayne Logan, a professor at Florida State University College of Law and the author of a recent book on registration and notification laws, likens the registries to “legislative catnip.”
“You’d be hard pressed to find a more politically popular movement in recent years,” he said. “Whether it’s actually good public policy is a distinct and independent question from whether it’s politically popular and makes us feel good.”
Mr. Logan noted that once passed, the laws were difficult to remove because politicians did not want to seem to diminish the suffering of victims. Instead, they are added “like Christmas ornaments on a tree, year after year.”
The analogies I use in class is that these programs are like mold or cockroaches: no matter how much you try to kill them off, they only continue to multiply.
Jill Levenson, an associate professor of psychology at Lynn University in Florida, who has written extensively about sex offender registries, has noted that Department of Justice figures suggest that only 13 percent of new sex crimes are committed by known sex offenders, and that such crimes are at least six times more likely to be committed by other types of offenders who do not appear on any sex offender registry.You know why? Because kids are far more likely to be sexually and physically abused by their parents, family friends, or "weird uncle Larry" than they are by some stranger lurking around in a trench coat by the playground.
But again, online registries have nothing to with deterrence or facts. This is simply moral panic, fear, and garnering votes.
Fundamentally, it's also another evolution in the growth of the techno-correction industry. From GPS and electronic monitoring, to online offender registries for everyone and their mother, eventually the right to privacy will be scrapped in the name of fear and security.
And we will be neither safe nor secure at the end.