necessary to find those people.

LocatePLUS is also creating a "flagging" mechanism that runs activity reports weekly or monthly, recording each time a subject's name, phone number or Social Security number is used in a transaction, such as opening a new account or purchasing department store items. Officials will note from the purchase if perhaps the subject has given a different address or phone number. That feature is expected to be up and running this summer.

Not a Panacea

In Florida, 9-year-old Jessica Lunsford was kidnapped and killed, which registered sex offender John Evander Couey confessed to after taking a lie-detector test. He was living within 150 yards of Lunsford's home and hadn't notified local authorities of his move.

That type of incident has happened in Massachusetts as well, Wood said.

"In this state, sex offenders are required by law to register. If they fail to register, an investigation occurs and people go out and look for them ... hopefully. They're also required to register when they move," he said. "The problem is it's very difficult to know that somebody's actually moved."

Massachusetts' officials don't see the new database as a cure-all for the sex offender problem, but rather as another tool to help in the process of locating people and keeping better tabs on dangerous individuals.

Good Feedback So Far

Wood said the system, which runs on the state's CJIS network, has elicited excellent feedback, but the proof won't come until three months of data is collected and reviewed. Every officer is required to note any successful transaction with the database.

"We're just starting to run the stats," he said. "We plan to review it after three months and make a determination if we're going to integrate this as an enterprise wide solution."

Although the application is password protected and within the secure CJIS intranet system, there are still privacy concerns.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has expressed apprehension, saying the information could be incorrect or misused by the state. The organization also mentioned that the database will be used to track other fugitives as well, and that LocatePLUS keeps billions of records and data on 98 percent of the U.S. population.

"The difference between having the state collect information on you and a private company collecting information on you has a lot to do with use and abuse," said Carol Rose, executive director of the ACLU of Massachusetts. "A private company, if they misuse your data or make a mistake, you can go after them for damages. If the police decide they want to abuse the information, chances are it's not going to be monetary damage.

"It may be that you're arrested because of the wrong information, so your actual physical liberty is at risk, not just your financial well being," Rose continued. "It's hard to compensate people if their liberty is taken away."

Wood said officers must sign a document that says the database will be used for official purposes only, and will not be misused. He acknowledged there's no guarantee law enforcement personnel wouldn't use it for the wrong reasons, but added that law enforcement and public safety officials are held to a higher standard for following the letter of the law.

"We have very strong [data] dissemination laws in the state," Wood said. "If an officer runs a criminal background check on Joe Jones and he or she decides to sell that information or give it to somebody, the officer faces criminal penalty."

Wood said all data must be verified, and to understand that some of the data may be incorrect.

"You have to be careful, it may not be accurate," he cautioned. "Before you take action, the information is checked, validated and confirmed legitimate."

Jim McKay, Justice and Public Safety Editor  |  Justice and Public Safety Editor