Monday, February 15, 2010

New Math Meets The Snarler

There was a time, not too long ago, that Snarlin’ Marlin Schneider, the politician who’s represented the Wisconsin Rapids area in the state legislature since shortly after the earth cooled and before the dinosaurs appeared, had the reputation as Wisconsin’s great personal privacy watchdog. He went after identity thieves with a vengeance, and wrote a whole bunch of new laws to stymie them.

It’s a good thing journalism, real journalism, not the blogosphere or talk radio “news”, isn’t dead. There are still a few old-line organizations like the Associated Press (whose members, like me in a former lifetime, referred to it as “The Associated Mess”) which still know how to ferret out a story, and hold politicians’ feet to the fire.

Case in point: the AP filing an open records request to get copies of the “hundreds” of letters the Snarler claimed he’d gotten from folks who said their lives were ruined by information posted about them on the state’s website for court records, commonly called CCAP - pronounced SEE-cap, for those few of you who don’t know about it.

Turns out that the “hundreds” of letters from “innocent people” is really 22.

Mild exaggeration is sometimes a desired trait, particularly if you’re telling a joke or are acting as a parent. But when you’re an elected official trying to gin up support for an unnecessary law that restricts the public’s right to know what its courts are doing, it’s best not to exaggerate by a factor of ten or thereabouts. It’s too easy to get caught telling a tall tale.

CCAP is a very, very popular website. On a slow day, it gets 3 million page-views. On a busy day, it gets 5 million page views. Not exactly Google (a hundred million a day) but quite considerable. To be candid, a lot of the page-views are likely pure voyeurism. You can find out how many speeding or drunken driving tickets your neighbor has, and if he or she has been accused or convicted of committing any serious crimes.

If you look me up on CCAP, you’ll find that I filed a will in Dane County in 1990 (which has since been superseded) and that I was party to a joint-petition divorce in 1996. You won’t find some dandy speeding tickets I got a couple decades ago when I was wheeling around in Corvettes and assorted muscle-cars. I really don’t know why; maybe they’re just too old. There was one I was particularly proud of, but…I digress.

The Snarler is concerned that if you apply for a job, and your potential new boss looks you up on CCAP and finds that you were accused of some heinous crime (of which you were NOT convicted), that they’ll drum up some excuse not to hire you. Or the same if you’re trying to rent a new apartment.

On the other hand, it might be a good thing for a school bus company operator to know if an applicant has a slew of speeding or drunken driving tickets that he or she “forgot to mention” in the interview or “didn’t remember” when filling out the application. Or that your child’s day-care provider has been convicted of drug-trafficking.

To me, the good so much outweighs the bad when it comes to public access to court records, that we don’t need the Snarler’s proffered protection. Besides, even if they pull the website down, you can still go to the courthouse and look this stuff up.

Thanks, but no thanks, Representative Schneider. 22 complaints out of 5 million Wisconsinites doesn’t make your case.

1 comment:

  1. That 'hundreds' of letters thing is even older than Marlin; likely pre-dates the USPO.

    Even better is the twist, wherein the pol invents text from one of those letters to create a strawman.