Research Reports / Protecting Privacy Without Jeopardizing Transparency

Protecting Privacy Without Jeopardizing Transparency: The Case for Data Preservation


Over the past several years, there has been a surge in states that are passing legislation to create new, or increase existing, record relief measures. These bills have included provisions that range anywhere from implementing a fully automated clearance system to expanding misdemeanor-only relief to include felony relief. While increasing available, and necessary, protections for convicted persons, this type of legislation has also exposed a fundamental tension between protecting individual privacy and preserving the valuable data contained within the records.

In this report, we discuss the unintended consequences of record clearance on data transparency, and other research initiatives, while acknowledging the necessity of eliminating undue harms of the criminal justice system. Our aim is to  provide recommendations on how to reconcile this inherent conflict.

Why It Matters

Simply passing record relief legislation is not always enough when there is no established plan to evaluate the outcome. Blackboxing entire records negatively affects data access and evaluation, in a landscape where the success of reform efforts leans heavily on evidence-based research and policy. Without retaining the records in some manner, and making them available to necessary parties, such as researchers, it is near impossible to measure impact and progress of both system reform and the record relief legislation itself.


Measures for Justice recognizes the harmful implications of having a criminal record that have led to various initiatives and legislation aimed at reducing the footprint of the criminal justice system. The good news is that there are ways courts and other criminal justice agencies can preserve crucial information and promote transparency while protecting the privacy of people with past arrests and convictions. Moreover, we specifically recommend the following approaches:

Invest in data infrastructure

Strengthen and standardize pathways to data

Implement safeguards to protect data from misuse