Iowa BAC database on hold after AG concern

BY MATT STARNS | AUGUST 30, 2012 6:30 AM

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A website aimed at aggregating Iowa’s alcohol-breath-test results was shut down Tuesday afternoon following a request from the state’s Attorney General’s Office.

The recently created site held a database of breath-test results, breath-test machine certification records, and training records for officers operating the machines from law-enforcement agencies statewide. The searchable information was available both to law-enforcement authorities and the general public. But citing privacy concerns, officials shut down the site until further notice.

Division of Criminal Investigation criminalist Jim Bleskacek said the Attorney General’s Office is working with county attorneys to resolve the concern, which caused the site to shut down around 4:30 p.m. Tuesday.

“There’s some question on whether or not the information we’re providing could be prejudicial toward the subject,” Bleskacek said Wednesday.

Bleskacek said concerns about the site revolve around what information is included with each individual’s breath-test result. He said the site did not include any names or driver’s license numbers but did display subjects’ dates of birth.

“[The restriction] may end up expanding to exclude the birth date of the subject,” Bleskacek said. “This is an issue that will have to be hashed out, and not all attorneys agree, or understand or interpret open-records laws the same way.”

Johnson County prosecutor Janet Lyness said the birth dates are likely behind the slowdown.

“Privacy is a big concern,” she said. “If someone could look at an arrest record and then look at this database and use the information to steal someone’s identity, that’s a concern.”

Bleskacek said the site, while new to Iowa, is based on existing databases around the country. He said many states have sites of this nature, including Ohio, South Carolina, and Washington.

“I’m not reinventing the wheel,” Bleskacek said.

He noted the site “made my job a lot easier,” as he commonly has to fill requests for the information that would otherwise be available on the website.

And, in this case, easy is also cheap. Bleskacek said the maintenance on the site would cost less than $250 per month.

“It’s actually cost-saving in the long run, assuming it’s up and running,” he said.

Chuck Green, the assistant vice president for the University of Iowa police, said he couldn’t think of a benefit the site would afford his department.

“Maybe we will discover some benefit to law enforcement, we just don’t see it right now,” he said.

Green said that his department uses breath tests on many subjects, with 156 OWI arrests in 2010 and 152 in 2011.

Green said the database wouldn’t be of immediate help with a new arrestee.

“If we arrest someone for OWI, we’re going to get all new information,” he said. “I’m not sure what the benefit [of the database] to law enforcement would be.”

Lyness, however, said the site could be very useful for defense attorneys.

“We could save a lot of person power,” she said. “As part of the discovery process, it would be a lot easier to refer them to the website instead of having them file a discovery request.”

Useful or not, Bleskacek said he does not know when the site will be operational again.

“I hope it gets back online,” he said. “It was a very useful tool while it was up.”

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