Esmay is an advocate for people trying to overcome tangles with the criminal justice system. Last Tuesday, he faced the seven robed justices in an attempt to stop the court’s plan to put thousands of Minnesota criminal records online.
He talked about the “stigma” of a past conviction and raised the specter of data miners using the records to wreck people’s chances of getting a job or an apartment. “The real point is, we don’t know how it will be used,” he said.
Esmay’s reasoning goes against just about everything this column stands for. The fact that we can’t predict how the public will use more government information is an argument for granting access.
Within months, the state Supreme Court could move forward with its plan to put the bulk of trial court records online. This long-overdue change will allow people to view lawsuits, criminal complaints and other records over the Internet. Currently, you have to go to a Minnesota courthouse to see these documents, and often have to pay $10 or more per document to get a printout.