NEWS MEDIA UPDATE · PENNSYLVANIA · Freedom of Information · Dec. 8, 2006
Statewide computerized case system receives green light
Dec. 8, 2006 · After four years of debate, Pennsylvania’s court administrator’s office has released new rules that will allow the public to access arrest information and local dockets online.
The policy, which was released Saturday and takes effect Jan. 1, received support from open-records advocates but has encountered significant opposition from those concerned the new system allows access to more than just criminal convictions.
“We have worked hard to listen to every view regarding electronic accessibility and tried to responsibly accommodate their views,” Chief Justice of Pennsylvania Ralph J. Cappy said in a press release.
Public comments included in an administrative report on the policy criticized the availability of criminal charges and other preconviction information on the online system.
Larry Frankel, legislative director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania told The Associated Press, “The problem with putting mere arrests on the Internet, even if somewhere later it says ‘convictions,’ is because some employers, in utmost caution, aren’t going to hire somebody who’s been arrested.”
But Cappy believes the new policy strikes a balance by providing better information access than ever before “while maintaining appropriate boundaries for the protection of individuals who come into the court system.”
“As with everything in the electronic age, this policy will always be a work in progress,” Cappy said.
The judicial executive committee responsible for putting together the policy noted that 66 of Pennsylvania’s 67 counties already have computerized local dockets available to the public at courthouses with no reports of privacy problems. The new statewide system will allow the general public the same access to online court materials as attorneys and case participants.
“We will actively monitor technological developments that may afford even greater accessibility in the future,” Cappy said.