Saturday, April 20, 2002

public access to court records
Should court records be something that everyone can access online? If you've been involved in criminal cases, or civil cases, how would you feel if your neighbors could access that information with just a few clicks of a mouse? What about potential employers viewing that information? Or possible landlords? Or stalkers? Or people interested in stealing your identity? Keep in mind that this is information that is often already accessible to people with a visit to a local courthouse.

If you were a potential employer, or landlord, or creditor, it might be helpful if this type of information was readily at your fingertips. It's public information, and it should be something that you can find out, without having to deal with too much red tape and a trip to a courthouse during an inconvenient time. The Oklahoma State Courts Network (OSCN) already has a database of information online that many other states are thinking about imitating and implementing, to one degree or another.

On Friday, a Computers Freedom and Privacy Conference focused on a debate over how much public information should be available to the public online, and how it should be presented. Privacy advocates took on free speech advocates:
Privacy experts said they fear the exposure will lead to increased identity theft, stalking or worse. Free-speech advocates, on the other hand, maintain that open records are an integral part of maintaining a free society.
Both sides raise very good points.

One aspect of this debate, which makes it very timely, is that the National Center for State Courts (NCSC) has been accepting comments on how much access to information should be provided to people. While the NCSC doesn't directly set policy for courts, they are respected nationwide by court policy makers, and administrators. Their pages on Public Access to Court Records contains more information on this subject. They have a draft Model Policy on Public Access to Court Records (pdf) online which will probably be rewritten after comments are reviewed, and a public hearing is held.

It's uncertain whether the NCSC is accepting more comments at this time. The cnet article linked above states that they will accept comments for another two weeks. The NCSC page indicates that the subject will be open for comments until April 15th, which has already passed. If you feel that your views should be included, it wouldn't hurt to send an email asking about the time for comments. The final model policy will likely be read by many people in positions to make decisions about the information available to the public online.

No comments: