Privacy of Court Records | The Hoglawyer

Monday, June 30, 2008

Privacy of Court Records

Posted By on Mon, Jun 30, 2008 at 2:05 PM

Putting all of Pulaski County's court records online sounds great - at least until I find where my social security number is accessible to anyone with internet access. Our circuit clerk, Pat O'Brien, is 100% correct - it is legal to put these records online - and these records are all public documents.  I also believe him when he says it would take years and years to go through and redact social security numbers and other information from decades of court records. So what is the solution?

For one, we can make sure that future court records don't have these problems.   I notice where the Arkansas Supreme Court has weighed in on this issue and proposed keeping most private information - private. ( here is their new proposed rule )     This still doesn't answer the issue of the old documents.

The Federal Courts have taken a slightly different approach.  Like state circuit court records, the federal records are also public.    They have been stored in electronic form for the most part as well.   However,  to electronically access these records,  you need to sign up with the "PACER" system.   Then, you have to pay per page you want to access. I think the last time I checked it was ten cents or so. 

I think a compromise would be to do something similar -- but set a nominal expense such as 1 cent a page. Or, the clerk's office could require registration for anyone who wants to view the documents and require a credit card number to verify that those who register are who they say they are.  That would certainly discourage identity thieves from freely sifting the records for social security numbers without fear of identification.  Of course, it wouldn't help much if they stole the credit card to begin with, which is their field of expertise.  Another option would be to limit the number documents that could be accessed per day.

Internet access to court records would be a good issue to hold public hearings and solicit comments about as well - as it obviously effects, to some degree, almost everyone in the county. While there will be some speedbumps on the way - I think our circuit clerk is certainly building on his promise to bring efficiency to the clerk's office.

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