~ the future course of state courts and public access ~

The National Center for State Courts has released Future Trends in State Courts 2005, a 147 page document that anyone who interacts with a state court will want to read. Forecasts are floated on the volatile issue of access to public records, technology applications in the courtroom and the impact of economic, social and political developments on the judicial system.

In the section on public and data regulation the report observes:

The balance of privacy and public-access interests is one of the most significant information management issues facing today’s society. Protecting an individual’s right to privacy in the information age is a growing concern for entities such as financial institutions, health-insurance providers, government agencies, and private industry. The frequency of announcements of massive numbers of electronic bank records or credit-card records being stolen creates general unease among financially responsible citizens.

The prediction is for a continuing tension between the individual right to privacy and the mandate of government transparency.

The battle between institutional efforts to protect the personal information of their clientele and the ingenuity of those who seek the sensitive data for dishonest endeavors will continue to escalate.

For institutions like courts that are mandated to keep their records public, the challenge will be one of respecting their obligation to allow public access to their records while concealing potentially harmful data that could fall into unscrupulous hands.

Although keeping public records accessible will probably triumph over arguments to the contrary (especially as electronic tools make some records even more accessible), public agencies will continue to reexamine the more fundamental question of what information belongs in a public record.

Courts have taken various positions on what personal information is confidential. Some of the actions courts have taken or may implement are removing “…Social Security numbers, names of minor children, financial account numbers, and dates of birth…”. Courts are “…blanking out the first five digits of a Social Security number, referring to minor children by initials only, deleting all financial account numbers, and revealing only the year of birth. Courts are also becoming more sensitive to and sophisticated in protecting records against damage and tampering.”

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