Major improvements in justice information sharing now allow criminal and civil justice records to be shared, synthesized, sold, and analyzed at speeds and with an ease not previously imagined. Unfortunately, in addition to many public safety benefits, these improvements can have unintended consequences as the sharing of information concerning victims, witnesses, law enforcement, court, and other justice personnel potentially exposes them to harm by violating privacy protections. States need to address questions and concerns as the "practical obscurity" that served as the de facto privacy protection in a paper-based justice system has all but vanished in the face of statewide justice information sharing initiatives.

The full implications of improved justice information sharing are not yet known. The challenge is that state privacy policies have not kept pace with technological advances. The state laws, practices, and rules and regulations designed to protect privacy were mostly put in place when justice records and information were paper-based, housed in separate agencies and organizations, and not searchable electronically. The advent of justice information sharing, however, is testing the adequacy of these privacy policies. While many of these issues are not new, what are new are the large-scale implications; never before has so much justice information been immediately available at the touch of a button.

By taking a leadership role on this emerging issue, governors can continue to realize the public safety gains of improved justice information sharing while protecting the privacy and safety of individuals. Based on these lessons, this Issue Brief provides recommendations for improving privacy protections including:

  • Establishing a collaborative process to develop privacy policies for justice information sharing initiatives;
  • Identifying areas where justice information sharing initiatives put individuals' privacy protections at risk;
  • Conducting legal analyses of privacy laws and regulations that impact justice information sharing systems;
  • Defining statewide privacy principles to govern the operation of justice information sharing initiatives;  
  • Developing privacy policies that protect information in different contextual settings; and
  • Enforcing accountability and setting minimum security statewide standards for justice information sharing initiatives.
This Issue Brief  also includes a number of resources to which states can turn for more in-depth information.