Court Documents Not Fit For Web?
Although court documents have long been publicly available at courthouses, the practice of making them available on the Web has raised concerns about privacy issues and the possibility of identity theft. Many courts have appointed special commissions to weigh the two sides of the issue: the right of people to know how they are governed, versus concerns about privacy and possibly even physical danger.
One case that has drawn attention occurred in Minnesota, where a court advisory committee said that some banks looked up court records on minority applicants and then decided to deny home loans to some of them. Another case involved the aftermath of NASCAR driver Dale Earnhardt’s death in 2001, in which Earnhardt’s family members managed to prevent the news media from widely releasing autopsy photos that were accessible at the time under Florida law.
Beth Givens of the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse says that the placement of court documents on the Web can provide criminals with all the information they need in order to victimize people; while most states require certain bits of information such as Social Security numbers to be concealed, some instances can still slip through unconcealed.
South Dakota attorney Sue Larson, who helped draft the Minnesota report and who tracks public-records issues on her Public Access to Court Records site on the Web, says that technology has reached the point where courts need to enact policies. While she advocates putting a policy into place, Larson expresses concern that privacy interests are taking up too much of the debate without due consideration being given to the benefits of wide access.
Abstracted by the National Law Enforcement and Corrections Technology Center(NLECTC) from the Wired News (11/23/04); Ogles, Jacob .