Nora E. Sydow
Center on Court Access to Justice for All
While the concept of open court records has been the cornerstone of judicial integrity, courts have long been challenged to use their own discretion in the delicate balance between the harm that may be rendered by the disclosure of certain sensitive information contained in the court record and a “fully open” court record. The advancement of technology has raised complex issues regarding privacy, document certification, standards, and systems interoperability, as both state and federal judiciaries have adopted the Internet as a means to display documents and provide direct, rapid, and easy access to official court information, forcing states to take a fresh look on their privacy policies.
Links to related online resources are listed below. Non-digitized publications may
be borrowed from the NCSC Library; call numbers are provided.
Public Access Vendors from the Court Technology Vendor list.
As the trend toward online delivery of information continues, expect the libraries serving courts to digitize rare and scarce materials in their collections into forms that may be delivered to users 24/7 via intranets and the Internet.
Courts are affected by national trends in privacy legislation. Over the past ten years, many courts have reevaluated and modified public access record policies to increase protections on personal information in court records, especially as court records are made available via the Internet. As private-sector data is more heavily regulated, and as state legislatures enact state security breach laws to protect consumer privacy and ward off identity theft, court record access policies may be under continued pressure to conform.
This project began as an effort of the Justice Management Institute (JMI), the Joint Technology Committee of the Conference of State Court Administrators (COSCA), and the National Association of Court Management (NACM). The State Justice Institute funded the initial state of the project beginning in January 2001 to: review current state policies, hold several meetings of an advisory committee comprised of court professionals and others interested in access to court records, and produce a final product that would provide a "model policy" and commentary following the format and intent of American Bar Association model rules.
This article argues that the government must alter its role as an information provider and create a simple, reliable, and publically accessible infrastructure that "exposes" the underlying data, rather than by providing web sites aimed at meeting each end-user need.
New technology will allow courts to better serve the public by protecting digital information. Court technical staff needs to begin working with policy makers to test and tehn implement this new technology and modify both court and legal processes to take advantage of these new capabilities.
This article examines the disciplinary process in place to deal with judges partaking in unethical behavior, arguing that these incidents should be dealt with publicly to ensure honesty and public knowledge, and discusses the adoption of "sunshine laws" by 35 states.
This article discusses the issues involved in placing court records online. The author examines case law concerning privacy and public access, guidelines issued by court administration organizations, and ideas presented in law review articles.
This article examines case law governing public access and privacy interests involving court records and electronic-access-policy guidelines recently issued by federal and state court administrative organizations. It further reviews ideas and solutions proposed in recent law reviews regarding access and privacy issues, as well as recommends guidelines for electronic access to court records that balance judicial accountability and efficiency with public trust and confidence.
This article gives eight "practice points" on the benefits of automated retrieval methods, as well as reasons why it is necessary and what needs to be done to ensure that it is used properly.
As state courts review and modify public-access policy in response to Internet technology and concerns about privacy, they do so within a new national landscape of data regulation that requires increased compliance, security, and accountability, not only from courts but also from executive-branch agencies and the private sector.
This report tracks the work that has taken place since the CCJ/COSCA endorsed 2002 Guidelines. It provides additional language, discussion, and exemplars that address three distinct areas: materials for educating litigants and the public, expanded considerations of the challenges of access to family court records, and considerations of internal court policies and procedures.
Lecture available online in video. With widespread digitization and Internet connectivity courts must now address the task of revamping outmoded policies and funding structures in order to align their practice with this reality.
More and more, the public is demanding instant access to all sorts of information electronically. What are the responsibilities of the courts in safeguarding sensitive, case-related data and in regulating the use of social media during court proceedings?
While the justice system strives to improve its ability to exchange information among organizations, technology-enabled identification and information collection activities race ahead on multiple fronts. These exciting advances raise the question of how we can reap the benefits without overstepping reasonable privacy boundaries.
A description of how multifaceted and nuanced the issue of juror privacy can be in the context of contemporary society.
As more courts become more digitized, there is an increased concern for potentially causing undue harm to court clients by putting personally identifiable information (PII) online. The author discusses the growing concern and offers possible approaches for limiting harm from disclosure.
White paper on Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996.
This article examines the interest by federal policymakers to tackle the problem of identity theft by restricting the display of Social Security numbers in public documents. Social Security numbers are replete in court records such as probate files, land records, divorce documents, and other family-related court documents. This article will discuss the problem as well as the state court perspective on this issue and offer solutions that some state court systems are experimenting with to reduce the incidences of identity theft.
Identity theft is the fastest growing crime in the United States, according to FBI statistics, resulting in a rising caseload of identity theft cases for state courts. This type of fraud can be accomplished anonymously, easily, and with a variety of low and high tech means. This article includes information on the types of identification theft, current legislation concerning ID theft, and the future trends of the crime.
In describing the Tenth Circuit's move towards electronic filing, the author explores the balance that must be met between technological advancements and personal privacy.
This draft working paper examines the role of user fees for public access to records in the budgeting process of the federal courts. It sketches the policy principles that have traditionally motivated open access, describes the administrative process of court budgeting, and traces the path of user fees to their present-day instantiation.
This article discusses the Freedom of Information Act and the common-law right of access to records of government officials as it relates to personal privacy in civil suits.