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Sunday Feedback: Extreme redactions threaten public's right to know

2:10 PM, Jun. 26, 2013  |  Comments
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Each Wednesday afternoon, we post online a draft version of the next Sunday's editorial. We want to know what you think! Leave us your feedback in a comment on this story, on our Facebook page, via Twitter by tweeting to @WDHOpinions or by emailing opinion@wdhprint.com.

We'll incorporate reader feedback into the final version of the editorial, and on Sunday we'll publish selections of the responses on the topic. Please share your thoughts by the end of the day Thursday.

End redaction policy now

The national debate we're having about digital privacy is important and in many ways overdue. Questions about the scope of government power are vitally important in a democracy and deserve debate.

But across Wisconsin, including in Wausau and Marathon County, we are in the midst of a breathtaking loss of transparency from law enforcement agencies.

Police reports have always been public records, and the law states that governments err on the side of disclosure, only redacting information in specific, exceptional cases.

A new practice still spreading in Wisconsin has turned that upside down. Police have begun practicing extreme redaction of their reports - to the point that all identifying information is blacked out on many reports. It stems from an obscure ruling in a federal appeals court that upheld a lawsuit by an Illinois man who said his rights were violated when police left identifying information in a parking ticket on the windshield of his car.

On the basis of this case, police in Wausau and many other Wisconsin municipalities have turned their public reports into an opaque mess of black redaction lines.

It's absurd, and we have called on the courts to reverse the decision based on what are plainly unintended - and intolerable - consequences.

But it's not good enough to wait around for the U.S. Supreme Court. Police are public servants, part of municipal governments run by elected leaders.

They are allowing insurance company lawyers to override the Constitution and limit the public's right to know about what our law enforcement protectors are up to.

Put away the black markers. They are not necessary, and the public deserves better.

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