Disclosing public information can generate controversy
Jan 16, 2013
Disclosing gun permit information sparks controversy and raises concerns about privacy and safety.
Imagine if it were possible to publicly disclose the information of where all the registered firearms are in a certain country, such as, for example, the United States. This way, you could check which of your neighbors have guns. An idea of this kind is clearly controversial and high-impact, but after the tragedy of Newtown, all types of gun control in the US are being discussed. The aforementioned, for example, has already become a reality in an online local publication of some cities in the state of New York. The measure is neither obvious nor unanimous. A series of problems arises from the measure, ranging from personal safety to privacy. However, tragedies of the magnitude of what happened in Sandy Hook often make way for extreme decisions and, in the United States, few causes generate more discussion than gun control, a right provided for in the constitution.
Obviously, the discussion is heating up. Some readers say the map makes easy targets of homes that have or do not have guns; others find the measure healthy because you want to know if your crazy-looking neighbor has an automatic shotgun at home. Discussions about guns aside, the question addressed here is as follows: did the publication have the right to organize such information so visually and simply, given that this information was already public domain? In theory, when someone obtains a gun permit in the US, they are automatically granting the freedom for such a fact (the grant of the permit to be publicly disclosed), but until before the massacre at the elementary school, it was unlikely that any publication would take this right to the extreme. The decision to keep such data in the public domain certainly did not take into account Google Maps and at most, should imagine a dusty map on the wall of some public agency, and that would be viewed by a few dozen people per year.
The episode illustrates a phenomenon that permeates virtually all media activity today: it is the adoption of practices that, although legal, have not yet been debated or regulated (either by law or by professional practice). The controversy over the decision to publish where all the guns in the county are has the same nature as the discussion of whether or not to allow intimate photos of a celebrity that have been accidentally exposed to be published in large audience vehicles. It is impossible to judge and decide clearly situations that did not exist before the digital revolution and with laws that were made for another context.
In the map created by lohud.com, which belongs to Gannett Media, a large media group in the US, the shock goes well beyond the issue of gun control, which in itself is huge. For journalists and publication owners, it begins to be necessary to rethink the control of information so that there are no excesses or censorship, because at some point, problems derived from this inadequacy will begin to arise and after an acute event like that of Newtown, reasonable discussions are harder to come by.