Digitization and open access to governmental data have made criminal justice information incredibly easy to access and disseminate. This study asks how law should govern access to criminal histories on the Internet. Drawing upon interviews with crime website publishers and subjects who have appeared on websites, I use legal consciousness theory to show how social actors interpret, construct, and invoke law in a nascent and unregulated area. The analysis reveals how both parties construct legality in the absence of positive legal restrictions: Website publishers use legal justifications, while those appealing to have their online record cleared resort to personal pleas, as opposed to legal remedy. Ultimately, I show how current data practices reinforce structural inequalities already present in criminal justice institutions in a profoundly public manner, leaving website subjects with little recourse and an inescapable digital trail.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Sociology and Political Science