November 14, 2004
A story in the Christian Science Monitor discusses a disturbing problem caused by courts that make records available online. According to the article:
Public records held at the county clerk's office or city hall have always been available for public scrutiny, but to access them you needed to turn up in person between 8:30 a.m. and 4 p.m. Now, in the name of efficiency, many counties are putting their public records online and ending the practical obscurity paper records once offered.
And that's what alarms privacy advocates. It's not just checking out the new neighbors that's at issue. Those public files often contain sensitive personal information - particularly court documents, writes Beth Givens, director of Privacy Rights Clearinghouse, a nonprofit consumer education and advocacy group (privacyrights.org) based in San Diego.
As the story notes, divorce proceedings, bankruptcy documents, mortgage, and other personal information can be accessed quickly when those items are available through the internet, and many will contain social security numbers, bank information, etc. Identity theft is a growing problem, and investigators at the federal and state level have had a hard time catching up with identity theft rings that engage in large-scale frauds through the use of stolen information to obtain credit cards and bank accounts. As courts push further into electronic filing, the security of personal information will take on even greater importance. (ph)