Monday, July 13, 2009

What’s In A Name?

Maybe I’m missing something, but it just seems to me to be completely nonsensical that people with a criminal record in New South Wales can simply change their legal name by deed poll and their criminal record is not automatically updated. The New South Wales Police Association has been attempting to have this loophole closed for some time now, but appear to be frustrated by the effect of privacy law. So far, the government has not found a solution to the problem despite claims by police that lives could be endangered if Police confront a dangerous individual without knowing who he is.

It is actually an offence to change your name with intent to deceive or to defraud, but in this case any person with a criminal history can actually change his name and have his record virtually disappear for all intents and purposes and it is perfectly legal. Of course there are undoubtedly people who wish to put their mistakes behind them and embark upon a new life with a clean slate. They may wish to seek work without having to constantly explain their criminal past. But they could well be others who simply wish to confuse and deceive the authorities to help disguise their ongoing activities.

Overseas experience has revealed cases of people who have changed their identities, moved into a new location and committed more horrendous crimes before they were discovered. Police in Australia have stumbled across offenders whom they recognize visually form previous encounters and upon asking to see identification have found that the individual now goes by a different name, with no clear link back to the original criminal record. It has to be asked just what is the point of keeping a criminal record if the individual’s legal name is not recorded on that file?

While there are legitimate privacy issues, there is an obvious risk of abuse by habitual criminals, and it should be a matter of common sense to require that criminal records be updated to reflect any legal change of name. It’s not something that the whole world has to know, and there is no need to make changes of name a matter of public record. However, if you do change your name for any reason, it is only right and fitting that some authorities should be aware of the fact. You are required to notify the Tax Office for example, so why not also be required to update any criminal record which might be held?

It does seem odd that a state government which appears to be incredibly enthusiastic about handing out new powers to police to conduct covert searches, phone tapping, search and seizure operations, heavy handed crowd control tactics, and even authorizes operations where undercover officers are permitted to break the law themselves in order to maintain their cover, for some reason seems to be powerless to close this loophole which allows known criminals to evade the law.

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