The Gazette Editorial Board
The Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation is responsible for making sure those devices that police officers use to measure suspects’ breath-alcohol levels are properly maintained and certified for accuracy. That’s important, because the test results can determine whether someone is charged with operating while intoxicated.
An OWI conviction is a serious offense and comes with some costly financial penalties, not to mention considerable public stigma and possible negative effects on the offender’s job status or other ramifications.
So the DCI’s recent launch of a new website that allows anyone with Internet access to easily review current records on the testing and certification of those devices is a valuable service to Iowans. In the interest of transparency and ensuring accuracy, the website — https://breathalcohol.iowa.gov/ — also provides updates on the training status of officers who use the devices, as well as statistics on the number of breath alcohol tests conducted, by county. DCI criminalist Jim Bleskacek proposed the website and oversees daily updates.
Local defense attorneys told a Gazette reporter that the website helps them quickly gather some information on clients without having to request it from the crime lab or county attorney’s office.
All of which is useful and also gives the public another way to monitor how a government agency is performing.
That said, we do have a concern.
The names of those arrested and their driver’s license numbers are not included in the aggregate county statistics posted on the site. However, if you know the birth date of someone you heard has been arrested and enter that information, the specific results would be accessible if that person had been tested, the DCI confirmed to us.
That’s troubling, given that the breath test results are posted within 24 hours of the arrest and not everyone arrested for OWI is formally charged or convicted. Most people, we expect, know the birth dates of many friends or acquaintances or can quickly find them via other sources, including Facebook or Twitter programs.
Overblown concern? Perhaps. But the DCI’s website shouldn’t become a place where an individual’s name is publicly tarnished before due process is carried out.
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