Editorial: More, not less, online information

The Island County Assessor’s Office had its hand figuratively slapped by a number of people who complained that pictures of their homes are on the assessor’s website. The pictures have been on file and open for public inspection for years, but seeing them online apparently shocked some people who didn’t know that such public records exist.

In this case, the assessor overreacted, pulling all the photos offline. Instead, he should have left the photos up until the office staff had time to take away the backyard views and just left the home view available to anyone passing by on the street. That should quell concerns that backyard pictures were taken by a trespassing county employer or some nosy neighbor, while still leaving an important public record easily available online. People can compare home prices, check valuations and see a home or neighborhood without having to drive there.

In general, the county should make an effort to put more, not less, information online. Public records should be conveniently accessible to the public. If people can find what they need from their home computers they won’t have to drive to Coupeville to bother an overworked employee.

Some things newspapers used to routinely publish when they had more space, such as marriage licenses, dissolutions and lawsuit filings, should regularly be placed online. District Court should see that all its verdicts are available online so people will know who the drunk drivers, poachers and other misdemeanor offenders are in their community. Historical records, of course, would have great value if available online.

There seems to be a growing obsession with individual privacy that conflicts with the age-old wisdom of sharing the basic public information needed to maintain an open, democratic society. Give us more information, not less.

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