Secretary Jocelyn Benson’s office has announced that it will cease giving news outlets reports of driving records for victims of violent crimes. The decision comes from an old policy that has begun to raise questions about the intentions of the office.
Before, the office would hand over driving records to journalists reporting on violent crimes. For example, a victim shot dead by police at a traffic stop – the office would release the victim’s criminal driving history but under the new policy, that information will stay within the justice system.
For some the decisions seems like a limitation on the public’s right to information. The Freedom of Information Act has ben a hallmark of the free speech debate since it is ratification post 9/11. As a result, many Americans believe that they are entitled to all information including what they would consider public criminal records. Michigan’s own Freedom of Information Act says all people,
“Are entitled to full and complete information regarding the affairs of government and the official acts of those who represent them as public officials and public employees.”
On the other side of the debate, are those who see the release of criminal driving records as a gross invasion of privacy. For those in this camp, releasing driving records of victims, especially those killed by police violence, only derails the narrative. In fact, doing so leaves the impression that if the victim was speeding or had a history of doing so then they deserved to be killed.
The Secretary’s office agrees with this sentiment and based their decision on the idea that victims in these cases are entitled to their privacy. However, regardless of their best efforts, officials from the Secretary of State office cannot prevent information from being found.
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Your Driving Record Is Accessible
Unfortunately, driving records are available through many different information sources. The DMV sells driver and vehicle data in bulk to commercial customers, individuals, and government agencies. Websites that purchase this information list news reporting as a valid reason to purchase lists of driver and vehicle data and publish it.
There are also detailed tutorials online that guide users to the best source of information regarding driving records. Officials are trying to stop these sites from continuing to publish data but revoking the rights of the site owners would be a violation of several laws.
Michigan law regarding the sale and publication of driving records is vague at best, which gives lawmakers the opportunity to strengthen them against all commers in the future. Now that the conversation has started, the next hurdle will be to convince other lawmakers that they should prioritize privacy over corporate profits. Without legislative action in place, the sale of driver info can continue unimpeded which is why others in the legislature must support the move away from data as a product.
It is unclear where this debate will land, but now that the Michigan Secretary of State has pushed for change publicly, supporters are optimistic that the laws will change sooner rather than later. For drivers, this would be a crucial step toward privacy and respect for victims of police violence. Speeding never warrants death, but without control over the narrative, victims and their families are subject to the imagination of the public as people fill in the blanks that the media leaves behind.
Overall, protecting privacy is a crucial step toward building trust with legislators and lawmakers.
If you have been charged with a crime, you have the right to legal representation. Contact White Law PLLC to find out how we can fight for you.
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