Thursday, January 8, 2015

Internet Access to Court Records Upsets Canadians

According to an article in The Globe and Mail newspaper, “(o)ver the past year, close to 100 people have complained to the Canadian Legal Information Institute (CanLII), after coming across legal decisions that mention their names through Google searches.  The rulings are public information, but most are shocked to see the details of their court cases – often family law, criminal or immigration matters – on the Internet for anyone to read.”


The NCSC has been focusing on this subject for a very long time.  Our first major effort was publishing a book on the subject, Privacy and Public Access to Electronic Court Information (available online) that was published 20 years ago.   Additionally it was the subject of the first keynote speech at the first E-Courts Conference in 2000.  And our Knowledge and Information Services group have collected many useful information and has made them available online in a Resource Guide on the NCSC website.

More recently, in 2013 our friend Mr. John Greacen authored a report on the subject area titled; The Washington State Access to Court Information Project Survey.  That survey received responses from nineteen states regarding the level of public access that explores issues such as fees, document verification, fee waivers, access to docket/registry records online and more.

And checking with Gavel2Gavel editor Bill Raftery on recent activity, he shared news that the Alaska legislature passed a “Court Records Privacy Bill” last year in response to online records being used for background checks.  However, Governor Sean Parnell later vetoed the bill noting that "(u)nfortunately, the legislation summarily sweeps all such cases under the cloak of confidentiality in an unnecessarily broad manner without respect to likely adverse impacts on the public".

Technically,  we have discussed concepts regarding document identification and validation functionality being included as part of the court’s case management system.

And last, discussion of the TransUnion credit bureau class action settlement involving court record data accuracy was noted as a legal approach.

This is obviously a huge subject area and one that we here at the NCSC will continue to monitor.

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