Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Courts' Online Policy Off-Base

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Courts' Online Policy Off-Base

Article excerpt

Washington state strictly limits access to database By

Computer-assisted reporting can often put into context a particular event or identify a trend by crunching the numbers of thousands of incidents. From tracking the arrest patterns of police to monitoring a state's treatment of repeat offenders, information that once took years to compile can be accessed and cross-referenced in a few days.

In Washington state, however, a strict privacy patrol has been placed around the state courts' electronic database.

Due to recent policy changes made in the Judicial Information System (JIS), a giant electronic database of all the cases heard before Washington state courts, each newspaper is now required to sign a nine- page contract, pay several handling fees, and have at least 1 million dollars in liability insurance coverage before it can access the court's database.

But the most disturbing aspect of the new, more restrictive policy, according to many Washington journalists, is that newspapers and others may be audited at any time by court officials.

"The OAC [Office of the Administrator of the Courts] may, at its discretion, perform audits of the Licensee to verify appropriate use of the data provided by the OAC," reads the requester contract.

David Cuillier, city editor of The Herald, a daily in Everett, refused to sign the contract and sent it back with a letter delineating the problems that he saw with the new policy.

"The JIS [Committee's] Data Dissemination Policy and resulting licensing agreement to acquire public data appear to have been written with the idea of selling government data to companies for profit, with little or no regard for providing this public information to the public," Cuillier said. "Some provisions, intended to protect individuals from government intrusion, actually create far more invasive intrusion, including the ability for officials to examine your home or office computer to see if you are using the public information appropriately in the eyes of the government," he added. …

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