The more facts that emerge about this week's announcement by the police force that it will withhold the names of suspects and victims in criminal cases, the more extraordinary the situation becomes. Precisely why the Secretary for Security should have spent time concerning herself with this issue, based, it appears, on a single complaint from one disgruntled businessman, is difficult to fathom. This is especially true because the Privacy Commissioner's office had already ruled it permissible to release surnames and gender details in such cases, as was already the practice. So where was the problem? Obviously there are many occasions in which innocent bystanders become accidentally involved in matters of public interest, often to their embarrassment or displeasure. But that is an inescapable fact of everyday life. A great many people shrink from the ordeal of giving evidence in court when they have witnessed a criminal act; but who would suggest that they should not testify because it means their privacy will be invaded and their names may appear in the local newspapers? A touch of reality seems to be missing from official attitudes on this issue. And it is not likely to surface if the police continue to seek yet another legal ruling before they decide whether to return to previous practice and put the whole issue to rest. By taking this action the police will not put a stop to identifying the people involved in arrests or traffic accidents. Rather, it could lead to more bother for private citizens, with the media knocking on the doors of neighbours and relatives in an effort to establish the full facts of the case. Equally likely, it may lead to more reporting errors if journalists must glean facts from casual sources rather than from official and reliable reports. Nothing, of course, requires the release of names involved in sexual crimes and those involving juveniles. And that protection should continue. Withholding names in other cases was an ill-conceived decision from the outset and it was predictable that media reaction would persuade police to think again. However, police policy makers seem determined to find more legal backing for their stance. Public interest is the casualty here. The public can only wonder why.