Dragnet

A new computer database system called CriMNet is supposed to revolutionize crime fighting in Minnesota. Cops, politicians, big business, and the media love it.

He will have some interesting bedfellows in making that case. Mark Anfinson, an attorney who represents the Minnesota Newspaper Association (and City Pages), says his organization is watching the discussions about the future of CriMNet with keen interest. And he says that the media will fight for access to CriMNet data. "We fundamentally oppose any exemption, temporary or permanent, to any data that is currently public," Anfinson says.

Won't that expose people to harm, particularly if there is inaccurate information on the system? Anfinson acknowledges the risk.

But, he says, loss of individual privacy may simply be an inevitable outcome of the digital age. In the end, CriMNet will simply be one more manifestation of that phenomenon. Technical glitches or financial constraints may well derail the project in the short term. But that will likely be a temporary setback. In the end, criminal histories--as well as vast repositories of other police intelligence--will be lighting up PC screens across the state.

As Anfinson sees it, the best that can be hoped for is that the government ensures that the information on CriMNet is fair and accurate. And if it remains public, he contends, the government will be more apt to take steps to do just that. Still, Anfinson says, there will be negative consequences. People's past transgressions will follow them, old failings will not be forgotten. "There's no question that the potential for one's past to haunt one's future will be amplified dramatically by this stuff.

"We're all going to be living naked in glass houses," Anfinson says, "and we're just going to have to get accustomed to the view."

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