Can’t Touch This

A court in Pennsylvania has wisely decided to rescind an order that would have required a local newspaper to purge its archives of stories related to expunged crimes. Expungement is a pretty common practice that lets juveniles and first time offenders wipe the slate clean, and in a sense eliminate the historical record of a crime. The question is, what slate actually gets wiped? A court can certainly order the appropriate government body to purge its records. But what about newspaper accounts? And what about online archives of those accounts that are easily searched? Those questions bothered Judge Thomas Klister enough that he issued an order that required the Centre Daily Times and the Daily Collegian newspapers to purge their records of the relevant matters. When the newspapers objected to the order, the Judge backed off. He noted, correctly, “I have power over the police, I have power over the AOPC (Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts), but I don’t think I have any authority over …. the [newspapers].” This is a tough call. And it’s probably existed ever since newspapers started using microfilm to archive stories. But given how easy it is to search the Web, the problem is more pronounced now. Still, I don’t see how the First Amendment would allow any court to order a newspaper to purge its records. Even if the intentions were good.