In 2006, Tennessee rolled out a new crime-fighting weapon designed to give police quick Web access to privileged information collected on many of the state’s 6 million citizens. Driving records, photos, home addresses, Social Security numbers, car registrations, and some criminal history records became available to officers with the ease of a mouse click. The law enforcement community heralded the Tennessee Criminal Justice Portal as a breakthrough that linked isolated databases and reduced search times to minutes, where they had taken hours or sometimes days.
A review by The Tennessean shows that access was granted with little training and oversight to about 350 law enforcement agencies, creating an environment ripe for abuse. Only after a spate of recent cases have authorities begun to roll out new ways to protect against misuse. The cases have raised questions about how widely the tool is being abused. One officer was fired after running checks on as many as 182 state employees and private individuals, many of them women, including country star Gretchen Wilson. Shirley contends that what he did is commonplace among his law enforcement peers. “It’s a great tool,” said Nashville attorney David Raybin, who was on the committee that oversaw the portal’s creation. “The problem with a thing like this is it has a great potential for helping and a great potential for abuse.”