Should Public Court Records Be Available Online?

from the privacy-concerns-vs.-the-law dept

When is a public record not a public record? Apparently, once it’s been computerized. Last fall there was some debate over the topic when a county court clerk in Cincinnati digitized a bunch of court records. While, by law, the records were all public, some in the community expressed concern over whether their privacy was violated when the data was so easily available. The same issue is now getting attention in Alabama, where a study found that many courts won’t release computerized documents – even though they’re legally required to. Many cite technical difficulties in doing so – but some say it’s for privacy reasons. They’re afraid the info can be used to get things like someone’s address and social security number. Some people are saying that the laws need to be rewritten to deal with this issue. When the original laws were written, they were intended for someone who would go down to the court and physically have to look up the information. With computerized records and the web, however, just about anyone can do a fairly complete search of the records. Some are advocating that any data available online first needs to be cleaned of any private info. There are also suggestions that only “the press” be allowed to have more detailed access. Of course, these days, when anyone can be “the press”, I’m not sure how far that idea will go.

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Comments on “Should Public Court Records Be Available Online?”

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Anonymous Coward says:

apples and oranges

someone should remember that digitizing the records doesn’t magicaly make them available online. Both camps in this argument can be correct. The records are converted to digital form (easier retention, storage, backup, and access) . But the whole database is accessable only from a closed network. You still need to come down to the hall of records and use a local terminal. case closed.

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