Protecting Court Records

Article excerpt

When it comes to court records, judges generally control whether or not records are public or sealed. Most state and local courts that store records electronically use inexpensive imaging systems that scan documents as pictures in PDF format.

Many imaging systems can black out portions of images, providing some degree of privacy. But imaging software also makes it hard for court clerks to verify that confidential information is excluded from motions and forms filed by lawyers. For that reason, many courts won't post imaged documents online.

Instead, many courts post dockets, or chronological lists of motions, rulings, and hearings in each case. Court clerks control docket information because they enter it. Docket information may not show up in an Internet search because Web-design tools can designate sites or parts of sites off-limits to search engines like Google. In addition, most court Web sites require users to fill out search forms with the case number or name of one of the parties to access a case. Software used by search engines cannot fill out those forms.

To further protect confidential information, some state and local courts have started asking lawyers to use computerized forms that have special fields for private data, such as Social Security numbers. …