Privacy/Public Access to Court Records Resource Guide

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  • ICM course incorporates technology. In this course, participants will learn the fundamentals of Project Management for Courts with an emphasis on court technology projects as well as learn how technology can be used in all of the National Association for Court Managements core competencies.  This course takes place in Chesapeake, VA from August 24-26, 2020.

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.


Featured Links

Zelner, Tisha. Digitization of Library Collections: The Future is Now. (2005). Future Trends in State Courts.

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.

  • Issue: Privacy/Access. National Center for State Courts. The Government Relations division of NCSC describes the impact, position, and summary on the issue of Privacy and Access in Congress.
  • The ROI of Emerging Technologies. The presentation from the Twenty-fifth Anniversary of the National Court Technology Conference. Highlights of Manatee County Florida's decision of not going with a "less paper" approach.

General

  • Greacen, John. Washington State Access to Court Information Project Survey. (2013). The Washington Access to Justice Board, in cooperation with the Washington Administrative Office of the Courts, commissioned a survey of state court administrators in states with elected clerks of court and statewide automated case management information systems (whether or not they are actually used by every trial court in the state). They identified twenty-four such states, nineteen responded.  The report identifies the level of public access to court records online in each of the responding states.
  • Access Guidelines to Court Records. State of Connecticut Judicial Branch. Connecticut defines access to court records for public understanding.
  • Concept Paper on Access to Court Records. (2000). Paper prepared by the Conference of State Court Administrators (COSCA) for policy position on "access to courts."
  • Larson, Susan Jennen. Court Record Access Policies: Under Pressure from State Security Breach Laws? (2006). Future Trends in State Courts. 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.
  • Steketee, Martha and Alan Carlson. Developing CCJ/COSCA Guidelines for Public Access to Court Records: A National Project to Assist State Courts. (2002). 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.
  • Robinson, David, Harlan Yu, William Zeller, and Edward Felton. Government Data and the Invisible Hand. (2009). Yale Journal on Law and Technology. This article argues that the government must alter its role as an information provider and create a simple, reliable, and publicly accessible infrastructure that "exposes" the underlying data, rather than by providing web sites aimed at meeting each end-user need.
  • McMillan, James E. How Digital Rights Management (DRM)Technology Will Change the Way Courts Work. (2006). Future Trends in State Courts. 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 then implement this new technology and modify both court and legal processes to take advantage of these new capabilities.
  • Tembeckjian. Judicial Disciplinary Hearings Should Be Open. (2007). Justice System Journal (Vol. 28, No. 3). 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.
  • New Internet Kiosks Make Courts More User-Friendly. (2007). The Washington Post. The D.C. Superior Court has installed Internet kiosks which allow people to pay court fines, access information, and eventually access court records.
  • Sudbeck, Lynn E. Placing Court Records Online: Balancing Public and Private Interests. (2006). Justice System Journal (Vol. 27, No. 3). 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.
  • Sudbeck, Lynn E. Placing Court Records Online: Balancing the Public and Private Interests. (2006). The Justice System Journal, vol. 27, no. 3. 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.
  • Practical Guidance in Evaluating the Use of Automated Search and Retrieval Methods. (2007). The Sedona Conference Journal. 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.
  • Larson, Susan Jennen. Public Access and the National Landscape of Data Regulation. (2005). Future Trends in State Courts. 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.
  • Carlson, Alan  and Martha Steketee. Public Access to Court Records: Implementing the CCJ/COSCA Guidelines Final Project Report. (2005). 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.
  • Report on the Public`s Access to Legal Information and Assistance in Wisconsin. (2005). Law Librarians Association of Wisconsin. This report evaluates the current level of public accessibility to court records in the state of Wisconsin and makes recommendations for changes to ensure a higher level of service to both litigants and the public.
  • Schultze, Stephen  and Shubham Mukherjee. Selling the Law: The Business of Public Access to Court Records. (February 2009). Center for Information Technology Policy - Princeton University. 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.
  • South Dakota Codified Laws: 16-18-32. South Dakota Legislature. South Dakota has a statute that allows an attorney to temporarily remove files from offices of clerks of court.
  • Washington Courts: Access to Court Records Brochure. The state of Washington issued a brochure  to assist the public in understanding how to access court records and the restrictions on access. It is a guide and not a legal document.

Privacy Issues

Identity Theft and Court Records

  • Dimas, Jose. A Focus on Identity Theft, Social Security Numbers and the Courts. (2006). Future Trends in State Courts. 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.
  • Police: ID thieves lifted personal info from court Web site. (2007). Ohio.com. Police say hundreds of people in five states are victims of identity theft after someone lifted their Social Security numbers from a municipal court Web site.
  • Public Records and Identity Theft. (2006). Concurring Opinions. Repercussions from the Hamilton County, Ohio. public access web site.
  • Keith, Ann L. Trends in Identity Theft. (2006). Future Trends in State Courts. 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.

Notification Services

  • Case Activity Notification Service and RSS Feed. Supreme Court of Ohio. This notification service is a public courtesy. Subscribers are notified when something has been filed in a case as soon as the item is docketed
  • Case Notification. Public Access to Court Information, Maricopa County, Arizona. Case Notification allows users to flag case(s) that they are interested in tracking. When a change occurs on the "flagged" case, the user will be notified via e-mail that something has been updated on the case.
  • Notification Features. alacourt.com, State of Alabama Features include attorney tracking, name tracking, case monitoring and personalized calendar.

Marriage Records

  • Marriage Records Database. A large database of the marriage records with instant records lookup from State and local Government agencies. There is an access fee.

Federal Courts

  • Access to Court Information Ever Expanding. (2007). The Third Branch: Newsletter of the Federal Courts. Customers of the federal court’s Public Access to Court Electronic Records (PACER) system now have access, without charge, to district court written opinions.
  • Civil Judgement Index Report. U. S. District Court - District of New Hampshire Access to this report is restricted and requires a login. There is an access fee of 8 cents per page.
  • Graves, Scott E. Electronic Filing in the Federal Appellate Courts. (2006). Justice System Journal (Vol. 27, No. 3). 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.
  • Electronic Public Access. (2007). U. S, Courts, Annual  Report In FY 2007, the Electronic Public Access Program initiated two pilot projects endorsed by the Judicial Conference to expand electronic public access to case information. The program generated approximately $65 million in FY 2007 through the CM/ECF Public Access to Court Electronic Records (PACER) system.
  • Schultze, Stephen.Electronic Public Access Fees and the United States Federal Courts’ Budget: An Overview. (2010). Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard. 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.
  • Pacer Coming Into Its Own at 20. (2008). The Third Branch Newsletter of the Federal Courts. From a dozen participating courts, PACER has grown to include all bankruptcy, district, and appellate courts.
  • Pacer Service Center. The PACER Service Center is the Federal Judiciary's centralized registration, billing, and technical support center for electronic access to U.S. District, Bankruptcy, and Appellate court records.
  • Lochner, Todd. The Freedom of Information Act, Personal Privacy, and Litigants. (2005). Justice System Journal (Vol. 26, No. 2). 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.