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Restricting access around the country

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From the Summer 2007 issue of The News Media & The Law, page 5. In every state and at the…

From the Summer 2007 issue of The News Media & The Law, page 5.

In every state and at the federal level, courts are adopting policies and legislators are passing laws that put limits on the amount of personal information available because of fears of identity theft. Here is a sampling of some of the changes that have occurred in recent years:

Arkansas: The Supreme Court adopted an administrative order this year specifying what court records are subject to public access. Among the exclusions are Social Security numbers, personal identification numbers, and litigants’ addresses and phone numbers.

Colorado: The Supreme Court chief justice issued a directive in 2005 requiring courts to deny public access to confidential information in court records unless “due to resource limitations,” they are not able to. Former Gov. Bill Owens signed a bill in 2004 closing any public record containing a Social Security number. He signed another bill allowing people to request that all information, except basic identifying information, on their arrest and criminal records be sealed.

Florida: Former Gov. Jeb Bush signed no less than eight bills from 2004 to 2006 that create or amend exemptions to public records laws to block disclosure of personal information of state and federal employees and private citizens.

Georgia: Gov. Sonny Perdue signed 63 bills over the course of a day in May 2005, including a key privacy bill. That bill added the phrase “public employees” to the list of exemptions from the Open Records Act, which blocks the release of home phone numbers and addresses of all city and county employees.

Minnesota: The Supreme Court approved rules in 2005 that aim to reduce the risk of identity theft by eliminating from both electronic and paper records personal identifiers such as Social Security and financial account numbers and documents like tax returns and pay stubs.

Nebraska: Gov. Dave Heineman signed a bill in 2006 that deletes references to Social Security numbers in divorce cases, domestic relations orders, paternity orders, child support orders and foreign support orders.

New York: To minimize privacy and identity theft concerns, the state court system adopted a policy in 2004 saying Social Security numbers, financial account and credit card numbers, birth dates and names of minors are to be redacted from filings. Those filing the records would be responsible for removing the information from both electronic and paper versions.

Ohio: In May, the Franklin County recorder’s office shut down links to mortgage documents online because it was concerned Social Security numbers and identities could be stolen. Hamilton County blocked access to 25 million pages of court documents in 2006 because of fears of personal information being stolen.

Oregon: Gov. Ted Kulongoski signed a bill in 2005 prohibiting disclosure of criminal investigation, prosecution or confinement records of individuals convicted of crimes unless personal identifiers, including Social Security numbers, have been deleted.

Federal courts: The Judicial Conference the policymaking body for the federal courts approved new requirements in 2003 making criminal court filings available online, but specified that home addresses and birth dates be redacted, Social Security numbers be reported as the last four digits, and minors’ names be reported as initials. A spokesman said the limits on personal information were primarily due to identity theft concerns. — NC