Online database for ratting out [Telecom]

> ***** Moderator's Note *****

> > > > IANALB ISTM such databases would be sued out of existence in short order. > > What databases? There aren't any databases for the purpose of ratting > out people like that officer.

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has been repeatedly targeted by state and federal prosecutors for "outing" their informants and dirty cops, but so far the website operator has been able to use the First Amendment to stay online.

Valuable public service or dangerous information resource? You decide.


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I'm not familiar with that database.

In general the question you ask on this particular issue is not an easy one to answer.

On the one hand, informants do provide the cops with a lot of information that results in the rest of us being safer. Indeed, many authorities have 800 numbers for citizens to send in tips. Our local school board announced such a tip line for any matter regarding school safety.

(Or cops pressure an arrested person to rat out others in return for a lighter sentence; that's very common.)

On the other hand, such a system can be abused. I'm not sure how I feel about such anonymous tip lines. I've heard of feuding neighborhoods making nasty untrue accusations via such tip lines causing the other neighbor all sorts of grief.

Let's not forget the news media makes great use of informants, too, who may not necessarily be honest or accurate. Back in the 1950s certain national columnists would finger communists or ex-communists based on confidential informants and ruin the target's life. Politicians and other public servants can have their careers ruined by such columnists.

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Based on my computer security experience, it depends on how the tips are handled when received. When we first announced a way of reporting abuse of the computer network, some people were surprised that we would not crucify other people at their request, without checking whether they were really guilty. Harassment-by-tattletale is common and is often very easy to see through.

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Unfortunately, sometimes the tips are not well handled by investigators, indeed, there may be legal pressure to be aggressive about it (see our recent discussion on public safety issues and community sensitivity).

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I'm all for the use of informants under well controlled conditions. But when their testimony is used (even if only as cause for a warrant), prosecutors should be required to tell the jury everything, including the informant's entire rap sheet and the whole deal that was made with him/her. And the government should never be allowed to use informants as a means to do things they can't do themselves (such as entrap suspects into committing crimes or bully suspects into confessing).

The same goes for cops who have committed perjury, planted evidence, taken bribes, or otherwise abused their positions. Federal law now hides that information from juries, even when it would and should make them very skeptical of that cop's testimony.

[ObTelecom] And I'd like to see a national version of the law in some states that forces all interrogations to be videotaped and made available for defense attorneys to show to juries.

The media (and bloggers) should be given more slack than the police because the media can't use force.

Politicians should be held to a higher standard than ordinary people because they have the power to destroy people's lives. Cops, too. But against the media or a blogger, replying in kind or (if you can't) suing for libel is sufficient remedy.

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