Highlights From "Disordered Punishment: Workaround Technologies of Criminal Records Disclosure and the Rise of a New Penal Entrepreneurialism"
Date Posted: July 3, 2019
Professors Alessandro Corda (Queen’s University Belfast School of Law) and Sarah E. Lageson (Rutgers School of Criminal Justice) published a new article in the British Journal of Criminology exploring the impact of private sector interests and new technologies on criminal records management and dissemination.
The article expands on prior research on criminal records and examines a new facet of the privatization of punishment and its effects. While privatization represents a well-established phenomenon in modern criminal justice operations, less understood are the technological, market, and governmental forces that in recent years have dramatically reshaped the production and dissemination of criminal record data.
The article adopts a case study approach highlighting converging trends between the United States and Europe in regard to the involvement of private companies in the collection, management, and for-profit dissemination of criminal history information. In the United States, criminal records are widely available through government databases and third-party brokers. New technologies have made possible for private players to extract content by ‘scraping’ or ‘crawling’ governmental databases or purchase bulk records. As a result, a new marketplace has been created for websites and other platforms that range from ‘people search engines’ to mugshot extortion sites. In Europe, criminal records are generally legally restricted, but increasingly incoherently managed by conflicting players—with private actors taking advantage of loopholes and ambiguities in legal regulations not always up-to-speed with technological developments. The UK (with England and Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland following essentially the same rules) and Sweden represent two meaningful examples. In the European context, the role played by Google in dealing with ‘Right to be Forgotten’ requests related to old, expunged, and sealed convictions adds an additional layer of complexity.
The key contribution of the article is to present and develop a reconceptualization of theories of penal entrepreneurialism that more directly addresses the role of technology and corporate interests in the field of criminal record management. The article creates a paradigm (‘penal entrepreneurialism version 2.0’) for a better understanding of the new, multifaceted, and often problematic interactions between corporate private actors autonomously collecting and commodifying criminal records data, technological developments, and the criminal justice system.
The dispersed form of ‘digital rule’ by means of private actors Corda and Lageson describe and discuss in the article has led to what the authors term ‘disordered punishment’, doled out unevenly and inconsistently across multiple, overlapping platforms, and increasingly difficult for both government and individuals to control.
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