Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Unintended Consequences: "False Positives"

A small seaside town in Maine near Kennebunkport has been rocked by an unlikely prostitution scandal, as you may have heard.  A 29 year old dance instructor named Alexis Wright was charged earlier this month with engaging in prostitution out of her "Pura Vida" dance studio, where she taught a Latin-inspired fitness program called 'Zumba.'

Given the sleepy, staid location, that in and of itself was sort of noteworthy, especially locally.  But these sorts of scandals only really gain traction in the national media when rumors begin spreading that there's a list of johns which may be disclosed.  And that's happened in this case, too.  According to NBC News HERE, "Police said she kept meticulous records suggesting the sex acts generated $150,000 over 18 months."  The town of Portland, Maine has been on pins-and-needles for days awaiting the promised release of this list of names.

Police began releasing the names yesterday (after getting court approval).  But it was first and last names only: no middle names, no addresses, an no ages. That was a condition imposed by the court, apparently. An unanticipated problem immediately emerged, however. "'The fact is that by releasing names only, you're getting a lot of false positives. You're implicating people who may be completely innocent and simply share the same or similar names with people charged, and that's a real harm,' Schutz told the AP."

Yesterday, the same superior court justice in Maine reversed his earlier decision and these other identifying details are now being released publicly.  So now men like Paul Main don't have to keep denying they're THE 'Paul Main' on the notorious list.  (It turns out there are 20 residents of Maine named Paul Main.)

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