Website conviction list an 'obsession'

A Western Australian website that sells lists of criminals over the net encourages a national "obsession" with "criminalising", argues Privacy Foundation chairman Tim Dixon.

Criticism from the Privacy Foundation and other IT industry groups followed the launch yesterday of CrimeNet (crimenet.com.au), a website that peddles access to its privately owned criminal convictions database.

For $6, "ordinary Australians" can obtain categorised lists of criminal offenders, including convicted pedophiles and frauds. According to officials, the site gathers its information from combing public records, as well as Melbourne and Western Australian newspapers.

Dixon said the site flouted a 1990 amendment to the Commonwealth Privacy Act, which does not allow information on "some old criminal convictions after 10 years (or five years in the case of juvenile offenders)" to be publicly available.

However, Roy Hampton, the site's corporate affairs manager, maintained that the company's criminal database records were automatically deleted after the relevant legal time had passed.

Dixon's primary concerns, however, were ethical. He believes that most young offenders never commit another crime after their first conviction. By publishing their crime on the internet, CrimeNet could effectively inhibit a one-time offender's future employability.

"It's pretty stupid for a society to brand someone at the age of (say) 22 if they've been involved in a single conviction (when they were 18) and to criminalise them," he said. "If you take that approach, then you're just creating a criminal -- if you're told you're a criminal, you'll always be that criminal."

The CrimeNet website has not been fully functional since its launch. Hampton attributes this to unexpectedly high site traffic, "in excess of 150,000 hits".

But, says Dixon: "It's unhealthy for a community to obsess about criminalising people. They're human beings."

Western Australian police spokespersons said the police did not endorse commercial crime prevention ventures such as CrimeNet.

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