Madison, WI. Officials Propose Database for Tracking Second-Hand Sellers

A new proposal before the City Council of Madison, Wisconsin has some residents and civil rights groups up in arms this week. An effort to collect the personal information of individuals who sell various used items (books, DVD's, music CD's, iPods, games, and more). Under the proposed Madison city ordinance, if someone sells items to a second-hand store they will have to provide personal information and a photo will be entered into a police database. Local business owners, civil rights advocates and the public are not pleased.

The proposal is supposed to gather information to catch addicts and crooks who use second-hand stores and pawn shops to unload stolen goods. A provision in the proposal passed the city Public Safety Review Committee on Wednesday in a 4-1 vote – contains language that would include commonly sold items like CD's, movies, books on tape, games and other media. Besides giving law enforcement access to information they normally wouldn't have access to, the information, say opponents, could allow police to profile people based on what music they listen, what movies they watch, and what computer games they play.

"These are really big flags with the ACLU," says Stacy Harbaugh of the Madison chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin.

Harbaugh points out that there is nothing in the new law that keeps the police from sharing the information collected with the FBI or other law enforcement agencies in the state.

"The ACLU's position is quite simply that we don't need another government database that's connected to our tastes and our choices for intellectual and entertainment options," she says. "We hope that the City Council will amend the ordinance — that they'll take out the lines that include the expressive materials. And we hope that people will call their representatives and remind them to do that."

While the Madison proposal is controversial, similar systems exist in parts of the state such as Greenfield and Milwaukee. The difference, say opponents, is that most electronic media is exempt from the database records. Madison Alderman Mike Verveer, who authored the Madison proposal, says he's looking at ways to address the privacy concerns and will alter the ordinance before it goes to the council. That is expected to happen sometime next month.

Wisconsin state law does require second-hand sellers to keep paper records on hand about item purchases including textbooks, CDs and computer games and other media. The ordinance would maintain the current paper records system for textbooks, which second-hand shops must keep on hand for six months, but people selling other media would be entered into the database.

Dave Stanowski, owner of Madcity Music Exchange on Williamson Street, says the database will keep customers who want to sell something away because of the I.D requirement.

"We depend on revenue from people bringing in their products to sell to us, and that would effectively kill it," he says.

Sandi Torkildson, owner of A Room of One's Own bookstore, thinks the ordinance violates the First Amendment.

"I'm just a person who's passionate about what kind of information we allow the police to hold on us," she says. "This is not something I think is appropriate or necessary."

While she follows state law about keeping paper records, she says that she has no intention of ever giving that information to the authorities.

"I'll keep the records because I have to, but when you come to my store and ask me for that information you'll have to take me to jail because I'm not going to give them to you," she says.

Capt. Jim Wheeler, the head of the Police Department's investigative unit, says the paper system in place currently works against the investigative process.

"We need to work in a timely manner," he says. "Plus, we need to have a deterrent effect. People need to know that if they're going to take stolen goods someplace, the serial numbers are going into a database and this is going to be matched up with things that are reported stolen."

According to Wheeler, the police department tested databases at two local stores. This week investigators entered the names of three "heroin addicts" with criminal records into the system, and turned up one person who sold 47 Wii game controllers within a month.

"This is an example of what we would be able to get from the system," he says.

Source: The Capital Times

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