Editorial: Sex register must be kept private

Sex offenders, particularly those who commit such crimes against children, are among the most repellent members of our society.

Their actions and manipulations stir some of the strongest reactions among us. So, on face value, bringing in a sex offender register to help co-ordinate the work of police and the Corrections Department makes sense.

Anne Tolley, minister of both corrections and police, has said pooling resources by creating a register would close the "final gap" in the system, and would shut down opportunities for paedophiles to reoffend.

The register would be a pilot scheme that would initially focus on those who offend against children. After the trial period there would then be the option to expand to include all sex offenders on the register.

With Cabinet only weeks away from discussing the pros and cons, and a register possibly being in place by the end of the year, the Government needs to move quickly to reassure the public what shape it will take, and what it will and won't do. Despite pressure to do otherwise, Tolley has said any register will not be made public.

This is not only the right option, it is the only option.

The Government will be conscious of what happened in 1996, when Deborah Coddington released The New Zealand Paedophile and Sex Offender Index.

A publicly available book, that index created a whirlwind of publicity, from those congratulating its publication to those opposed to the "name and shame" nature of it.

Coddington received threats because of it, and there were accusations of vigilante attacks based on the names in the book.

A second, more comprehensive edition, was released in 2003.

The proposed register will serve a different purpose. It will be a tool for authorities to collate and track information about known offenders, then share the information where necessary.

As much as people want the list public, it can't be.

We have to be able to trust those in the position of power. The onus is on police and corrections staff to use the information and the register correctly. And it is the minister's job to give rock- solid assurances that there are enough security systems in place to ensure the information doesn't leak into the public domain.

That may be the hardest part of setting up and using the register.

Because, while there may be every intention to keep a tight rein on the sensitive information, we have seen time and again privacy and security blunders from government agencies, be it ACC or the Ministry of Social Development, or even the GCSB.

Technology will be a double-edged sword for the sex offenders' register.

On one hand, it will provide a simple and effective way to manage important information that needs to be shared.

On the other, it is open to human manipulation and errors.

And once any sensitive information is let out, it can never be contained as it once was.

While privacy of a convicted paedophile may be a low priority, and even unpalatable for many people, it is a right that they still should have.

The Dominion Post