Letter: Protect the missing

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The Independent Culture
Sir: I would like to agree with Janet Newman (letter, 26 October) when she argues against the establishment of a website with details of missing people.

Of the reasons she outlines, the most important of all, perhaps, is that such publicity could infringe the privacy of the person who is being sought. Whilst someone may be absent from the family, he or she could have good reasons for not being found. Experience confirms that when a relative is reported missing (other than those who are obviously at risk), only one side of the family story is presented. It may be the truth, part of the truth or anything but the truth.

At The Salvation Army we never use media publicity for searches (and yet we trace 10 people every working day). Such publicity could be at best embarrassing and at worst distressing or even dangerous for the person who is sought. And even if the missing person does not respond personally to publicity, other well-meaning folk may do so on his or her behalf, resulting in a major breach of confidentiality.

It should also be borne in mind that of all people reported missing, more than 98 per cent are accounted for within 72 hours. In many cases, therefore, missing person reports will only find themselves on the Worldwide Web, and being read, long after the subject has been found.

Finally, the idea of publicising vulnerable people on a website fills me with unease. Not all surfers of the web are good Samaritans.



Family Tracing Service

The Salvation Army

London WC1