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Google Map of Gun Permit Holders Sparks Open Data Arms Race
© Image: Eric Blattberg / Crowdsourcing.org
editorial

Google Map of Gun Permit Holders Sparks Open Data Arms Race

The Journal News, a suburban New York newspaper, set off a fiery debate about transparency and open data Saturday when it posted an interactive Google Map showing the names and addresses of all handgun permit holders in New York's Westchester and Rockland Counties.

Conceived in the aftermath of the Newtown massacre, the newspaper’s map and accompanying report answer the question, “Where are the gun permits in your neighborhood?” But a number of readers think that data should not be so readily accessible.

“This is the most egregious, irresponsible ‘journalism’ I have ever seen,” wrote one commenter. “This makes targets of the homes with guns as well as those without.”

“What are you so paranoid about? This is public record,” countered another. (The Journal News acquired the information by submitting a number of Freedom of Information requests to New York State.)

Upset by the newspaper’s data dump, Connecticut lawyer Christopher Fountain engineered one of his own, posting Journal News employees’ personal data on his blog. The post contains addresses and phone numbers for more than 50 of the paper’s journalists and employees, as well as email addresses, social media profiles, hobbies, and other details. Fountain has updated the list several times since its initial publication, often with assistance from the crowd.

Journal News publisher Janet Hasson, whose personal information is now available on Fountain’s blog, defended the gun permit map in a statement Wednesday.

“One of our roles is to report publicly available information on timely issues, even when unpopular,” she said. “We knew publication of the database (as well as the accompanying article providing context) would be controversial, but we felt sharing information about gun permits in our area was important in the aftermath of the Newtown shootings.”

New York’s public information officer denied a number of the Journal News requests, including the number and types of guns owned by permit holders. Shotgun and rifle owners are excluded from the map entirely, as New York residents can purchase those two types of guns without a permit.

Putnam County is still processing the information requested by The Journal News, according to the newspaper’s website. Presumably, the paper will update the map when it receives the Putnam Country data.

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