NC bill that would shield public officials' personal data hits snag

gparke@newsobserver.comJuly 1, 2014 

An effort to protect the personal information of prosecutors and other law enforcement officials hit a snag Tuesday in the state House.

Senate Bill 78 would allow non-elected public officials such as assistant district attorneys, judicial officers and policemen to request that their addresses and other personal information be removed from government websites such as tax and property records. The legislation was written in response to the kidnapping of the father of Colleen Janssen, an assistant Wake County District Attorney, in April. Law enforcement officials allege that Frank Janssen was kidnapped after an inmate obtained his address online via a cellphone in his possession.

The bill ran into problems from both Republicans and Democrats, and a vote on it was postponed twice in the last week. The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Chris Malone, a Republican from Wake Forest, said the delay was to allow for more internal discussion among the supporters of the bill to reach a consensus of support.

“There were lots and lots of questions and not enough answers to those questions,” Malone said. “It was hard to come to a consensus on certain aspects of the bill, so we needed time to hold some hearings so it could be more improved and accepted by everyone.”

On Tuesday, lawmakers unanimously passed an amendment to the bill that would require the North Carolina Courts Commission to study a process of requiring cities and counties to remove personal information from records available on government websites instead of immediately requiring cities and counties to do so. That amendment was substituted for the text of Malone’s bill.

Even some of those who are in support of the privacy bill are concerned about the impact it could have on local governments in terms of cost and enforcement.

The study by the commission would consider which officials would qualify to request exemption, what information could be removed and the process for removal, in what circumstances the information removed is subject to disclosure as a public record and what it would cost cities and counties to accommodate the requests.

“It truly is a good idea, but it needs input from the stakeholders to see if it is feasible,” said Rep. Sarah Stevens, a Republican from Mount Airy.

The kidnapping also inspired a provision in SB 594, an omnibus justice bill, to increase penalties for supplying inmates with cellphones and for possessing a cellphone as an inmate. That bill passed both the Senate and the House and is now awaiting concurrence in the Senate.

Parke 919-829-4855

News & Observer is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service