Friday, February 18, 2005

Cleansing court records ...

I hadn't seen this until it came in the South Carolina Press Association newsletter today, but it seems that the federal courts' move to put more records online for greater accessibility also means less information will be available (calling George Orwell, calling George Orwell ...)

The story (from Jan. 15) is from Sean O'Sullivan at The News Journal in Wilmington, Del.

As he notes:

In setting up rules for the new system, however, federal courts have adopted privacy guidelines that require removal of previously available information about defendants, such as home addresses, birth dates and Social Security numbers. The new rules also require that minors be identified only by initials.
The rules pose problems for someone from the general public or news reporters - anyone but lawyers and the court - who may be trying to accurately identify people accused of a crime. Legal experts and others say the move is part of a larger trend toward restricting personal information on the grounds of privacy.
Now, for those who will say, "You have no right to the information," I agree to some extent, at least on the Social Security number. But the other side is this: First, it's nice to know whether it's the Tom Smith of Cherry Lane or Tom Smith of Cherry Court, just for the sake of being accurate. Second, whatever happened to the idea that you don't arrest, jail and charge people secretly. That includes knowing at least the address. And the birthdate? Well, that does help ID.

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