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Probationers' photographs will remain online for now
By JAMIE MALERNEE
© St. Petersburg Times, published April 20, 2000
BROOKSVILLE -- The Department of Corrections offender database will remain online for now, despite complaints from probationers throughout the Tampa Bay area that the Web site violates their privacy by posting their photographs.
Hernando County Circuit Judge Daniel Merritt refused Wednesday to grant an injunction to dismantle the site, citing concerns with the probationers' request and how it was made. Freedom for Life, a Spring Hill group that helps criminals re-enter society, sued the DOC on April 13, on behalf of the more than 200,000 Florida inmates and probationers it says have been fired and ridiculed because of the Web site.
Although he agreed to revisit the issue once a few procedural problems are overcome, Merritt questioned the group's argument Wednesday.
"Doesn't the public have the right to know there are persons of potential danger?" the judge asked in response to the group's claim that the site is not in the public's best interest.
The photographs and criminal histories listed on the site, http://www.dc.state.fl.us, are public information, both sides concede.
George Nader, attorney for the DOC said Wednesday that fact makes this an open-and-shut case.
"It's a public safety issue," Nader said. "If I'm going to hire someone to be my child's babysitter, I want to know if they've served (time) for possession of cocaine."
But Tampa lawyer Steven Loewenthal, who joined Freedom for Life's lawsuit after filing a similar lawsuit last week on behalf of a woman in Hillsborough County, said the Web site is misleading. He says it contains numerous mistakes and also shows all probationers wearing blue prison smocks, regardless of whether they served prison time.
Merritt refused to hear further arguments on the case, however, until some procedural issues are addressed. He questioned Wednesday whether he even had jurisdiction to handle the case because the DOC is based in Leon County. He also asked Freedom for Life to apply for class action status before asking further review.
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