Historically a person in the Anglo jurisdictions did not commit an offence by not reporting a crime. The exception was misprision of felony which was an offence under the common law of England and was classified as a misdemeanour. It consisted of failing to report knowledge of a felony to the appropriate authorities. It has been abolished in England and Wales, in Northern Ireland, in the Republic of Ireland, and in New South Wales.
The United States still has "misprision of felony" as a federal offence. It provides that "whoever, having knowledge of the actual commission of a felony cognizable by a court of the United States, conceals and does not as soon as possible make known the same to some judge or other person in civil or military authority under the United States, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than three years, or both". This offence, however, requires active concealment of a known felony rather than merely failing to report it.
New Hampshire’s law makes the following long list of people mandatory reporters: "any physician, surgeon, county medical examiner, psychiatrist, resident, intern, dentist, osteopath, optometrist, chiropractor, psychologist, therapist, registered nurse, hospital personnel (engaged in admission, examination, care and treatment of persons), Christian Science practitioner, teacher, school official, school nurse, school counselor, social worker, day care worker, any other child or foster care worker, law enforcement official, priest, minister, or rabbi". It then adds "or any other person having reason to suspect that a child has been abused or neglected".
Compulsory reporting is not, however, confined to child abuse. In North Carolina every citizen has a legal duty to report cases where there is suspected child abuse and/or neglect by a parent, guardian, custodian or caretaker; they are also required to report abuse, neglect or exploitation of a disabled or elder adult by their caretaker. Physicians and hospitals in North Carolina must report to law enforcement certain kinds of wounds, injuries or illnesses. School principals must report immediately to law enforcement when he or she has personal or actual knowledge that an act has occurred on school property involving certain offenses. Photo processors or computer technicians are also mandated to report, if within the scope of their employment, they come across images of a minor (or one who reasonably appears to be a minor) engaging in sexual activity.
Ontario’s Long-Term Care Homes Act applies to abuse and neglect of the residents of senior’s facilities. The Act (s. 24(1)) imposes a duty on the general population to report abuse and risk of abuse. Any person must report to the Director (who has been appointed by the Minister of Health) the following; improper or incompetent treatment or care resulting in harm or risk of harm, abuse of a resident by anyone, neglect by the licensee or staff that has resulted in harm or a risk of harm to the resident, unlawful conduct that has resulted in harm or a risk of harm to a resident and misuse or misappropriation of a resident's money. Abuse includes verbal abuse which in turn means "any form of verbal communication of a threatening or intimidating nature or any form of verbal communication of a belittling or degrading nature which diminishes a resident’s sense of well-being, dignity or self-worth".
There is a also panoply of elder abuse legislation and mandatory reporting requirements in the U.S. Under Connecticut law elder abuse includes, but is not limited to, the willful infliction of physical pain, injury or mental anguish, or the willful deprivation by a caretaker of services which are necessary to maintain physical and mental health. Elder abuse also includes neglect, exploitation, and/or abandonment of an elderly (ages 60+) person. The list of mandated reporters is very similar to that for child abuse and neglect including licensed physicians and surgeons and licensed or unlicensed residents and interns, registered and licensed practical nurses, nursing home administrators, nurse’s aides, orderlies, and anyone else paid for providing care in a nursing home, patient advocates, medical examiners, dentists, osteopaths, optometrists, chiropractors, and podiatrists, psychologists and social workers, clergy, police officers, pharmacists and physical therapists. Maryland requires financial institutions to report suspected financial abuse of an elder adult.
The Alberta law is particularly notable because it requires students to report cyberbullying if they witness it, with penalties including suspension and expulsion possible for those who do not. It has been pointed out that the Alberta legislation is asking kids to do more than the law requires of Canadian citizens when they witness a crime on the street. The observer (of crime) is not asked to step in and stop it; if anything, police discourage it and recommend that they be called instead. While there might be a civic duty to report crime, there is no legal threat if a person doesn’t do so (subject to being an accessory).
The Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 has increased the scope of mandatory reporting. It has introduced duties to pass on information about criminal proceeds with the result that professionals may have to report the criminal activities of their clients or third parties. Unlike existing duties to report, the obligations in the Proceeds of Crime Act apply to all criminal offences and therefore represent a significant change in the approach of English criminal law towards mandatory reporting.
Physicians have a long list of mandatory reporting duties. In Ontario there are eighteen different categories of compulsory reporting that extend far beyond child abuse situations. For example the Highway Traffic Act of Ontario requires that physicians report every individual 16 years of age or over attending upon the physician for medical services, who, in the opinion of the physician is suffering from a condition that may make it dangerous to operate a motor vehicle. Reports must be sent to the Registrar of Motor Vehicles, and include the name and address of the individual, as well as the medical condition that affects their ability to drive.
Every Ontario facility that treats a person for a gunshot wound must disclose to local police services the following: the fact that a person is being treated for a gunshot wound, the person's name, if known, and the name and location of the facility. Ontario’s legislation (which was copying U.S. initiatives) was quickly followed by the Canadian provinces of Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Québec and Nova Scotia.
Nova Scotia has a similar long list of mandatory reporting requirements imposed upon its doctors. They go one better with The Personal Health Information Act imposes a duty to report on physicians where there has been a privacy breach. An individual who has custody or control of personal health information about a patient (such as a physician) must notify the patient as soon as possible if the custodian believes that the information is stolen, lost or subject to unauthorized access, use, disclosure, copying or modification; and as a result, there is potential for harm or embarrassment to the individual. Creates a kind of damned if you do, damned if you don’t situation.
One well meaning law by one well meaning law we are creating a society where everybody is a spy on everybody else. Totalitarian regimes in other times and other places have created spy-on-spy systems in one big swoop; we are doing it with a "thousand cuts".