Since WRAL first made the searchable online database available they have tried to hide behind the First Amendment and maintained the information was fair game because it was available by request. I thought today we might spend a minute and have a look at the First Amendment for both the US and NC and then try to determine if a database of law-abiding citizen’s and portions of their addresses is even newsworthy.
First the US Constitution and the First Amendment:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
So looking closely the amendment dictates that Congress shall not make a law which lessens the freedom of speech or of the press. Let’s take a second and look at the NC Constitution and Section 14 of our Declaration of Rights:
Freedom of speech and of the press are two of the great bulwarks of liberty and therefore shall never be restrained, but every person shall be held responsible for their abuse.
I actually like ours better because it details you will be held responsible for abuse of freedome of the press. Basically anything which might cause harm or is inaccurate/false and might cause harm can put a news organization in hot water.
A few bloggers have concluded WRAL was perfectly fine to host a database of law-abiding citizens under freedom of the press. I don’t actually see anywhere in there where it says the press has a free card to do whatever they desire wherever they desire and further if someone is harmed I do see where they can be held responsible. I believe that is why they redacted addresses and had enough intelligence to remove other information such as names, DL#, most house numbers, etc.
A question keeps popping into my head, is this news? The article was interesting and certainly worth reporting. The accompanying map was interesting and certainly worth reporting. The question becomes is the database worth reporting. It has drawn a large amount of negative interest, most likely this has come from gun owners who are disgusted WRAL would publish and host a database list which has similarities to a sex offender database. Mr. Binker and Ms. Hinchcliffe had to request the information from the NCDOJ and Mr. Binker indicated on twitter that is exactly what they did. I won’t link to it, but WRAL General Manager Steve Hammel wrote in a WRAL blog, the information was available at the Sheriff’s office. While a Sheriff may supply that information, there is absolutely nothing in the NC Statutes which would compel the sheriff to release that information and further it is not where they obtained the information for the database.
Is public information which is not part of a breaking news story really news? I mean shouldn’t they start to report on every bit of publicly available information if this is the position WRAL chooses to take? I anxiously await the publication of the searchable list of streets, city, etc. for hairdressers in the WRAL viewing area. I’m on pins and needles for the Veterinary license holders, Professional Engineers, Restaurants, etc. Heck, why not the panhandling permits, at least that way we can know the guy holding the cardboard sign really doesn’t have an address or if they do that they are not homeless like their sign indicates.
In fact this is not news. It was gathered for a new story and someone said, “Hey, I got all this info in a spreadsheet, what should I do with it, can we put it on the site?” The response was “of course we should, it’s one of our freedoms.” No, it’s not. It is an invasion of privacy and an attempt to create hostility in the neighborhoods where law-abiding citizens reside. Further it is a google search for criminals to find homes where firearms may be available and areas where they are less likely to find armed resistance to crimes. It’s plain and simple a bad idea.
One last point which I’ve stated a few times is the article and database are filled with inaccuracies. No one in NC has a “concealed weapon carry permit”, it simply does not exist. No one has a “concealed weapon permit,” it also does not exist. The number of shots required for the course by law is 30, not 40. This is not the first time Mr. Binker has been less than accurate in reporting or about his reporting. He penned an article in May on S745 and then later in the article called it S742. Recently on Facebook he stated, “we removed the House numbers from our data set before posting” and we know that is not the case. Below is a highly redacted screen shot of a single search where one of four addresses had the street number included. If a reporter cannot get the terminology correct in a story, fails to research the law to know what it says regarding qualification, incorrectly states the Senate Bill in his own article on that bill, and then doesn’t state the truth on social media how can we believe and trust anything emanating from this reporter and his news organization?