Days after Phoenix officials announced plans to censor personal information from police reports, clerks redacted birth dates and addresses from some public documents while releasing suspects’ Social Security numbers on others, reports the Arizona Republic. Other reports showed how a new policy unveiled last week could limit the potential for identity theft by erasing precise addresses, telephone numbers, and other information from the written public record. Phoenix City Manager Frank Fairbanks said the city began restricting public documents to comply with an Arizona law designed to protect residents’ personal information. Officials will also consider redacting personal information from other public records, such as notices of neighborhood code-enforcement violations. The new policies are aimed at ensuring that if someone is “a victim of one crime, that they won’t become the victim of another,” Fairbanks said.
Civic journalism advocates and police agencies outside Arizona suggested the lack of birth dates could create the possibility for mistaken identities. Private investigators, insurance companies, and human-resource firms also rely on precise police-report details. Charles Davis of the National Freedom of Information Center at the University of Missouri said protection against identity theft should start with the government – although not at the expense of the public, who, he said, should be allowed to view information within the bounds of public-records law. “There has to be some nexus between the information itself and the harm to be avoided,” Davis said. In Phoenix, “I think there’s a tremendous gap between the proposed harm to be avoided and the content of the record.”