Personal Privacy Concerns are Plentiful with New OffenderWatch Program

Law enforcement agencies throughout the nation are adopting a web-based system to track registered sex offenders. OffenderWatch promotes itself to state and local agencies as the premier “offender management and community notification tool.” While the program certainly serves an important function in protecting the public from sexually violent individuals, the program’s capabilities are alarming.

OffenderWatch prides itself in providing the public with real time updates on the movements of registered sex offenders. Citizens within jurisdictions that have adopted the system can search within two miles of any address for registered offenders. They can also request that the system monitor an unlimited number of addresses. The system will send an email alert should an offender register at a nearby address.

According to the OffenderWatch website, its database is equipped to store “offender data, photos, addresses, phone, vehicle history, scars, tattoos, aliases, employment, offenses, verification schedule, email/IM addresses, and more.” Though not all of this information is publically available, a significant amount is.

OffenderWatch vs. Illinois Sex Offender Registry

The Illinois state sex offender registry provides much of the same information as OffenderWatch, but does not provide a notification system to the public. Sex offense victims can receive notification about the associated offender by a written request with the Illinois State Police.

The major (and most concerning) difference between OffenderWatch and the Illinois registry is that OffenderWatch allows citizens to register to track an individual offender and submit tips or corrections of the information in the database. These features turn a public information system into an interactive stalking tool. Making it that easy for any member of the public to constantly monitor another human being raises privacy concerns.

Hundreds of state and local law enforcement agencies reportedly use OffenderWatch to both track offenders and inform the public as to their whereabouts. However, the propriety and impact of some of Offender Watch’s public monitoring capabilities should be scrutinized more heavily to ensure a fair balance is struck between public safety and personal privacy.

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