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We have heard ample evidence from callers to our hotline to support his observation. Many other states also impose use restrictions on voter registration records. Justice only for the rich.

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Justice will only be available to those with the resources and know-how to seek private judicial proceedings. Those who can afford to hire private judges will choose this option in order to keep their personal information out of the public records generated by the traditional court system. Only the rich will be able to safeguard their personal information in this manner.

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Many of those who do not have the means to hire private judges will choose not to file suit against their insurance company, for example, or their abusive employer. We may become a society in which only the rich get justice. Indeed, many say we already are. Identity theft. The crime of identity theft and other types of fraud will be fueled by easy access to personal identifiers and other personal information via electronic public records. Such information includes Social Security numbers, credit card and bank account numbers, and details about investments.

Identity thieves use information such as SSNs and date-of-birth to obtain credit in another person's name.

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They purchase goods and services in the innocent person's name and destroy their credit history when the bills go unpaid. Identity theft has a devastating effect on its victims. They are unable to obtain home loans, refinance their homes, purchase vehicles on credit, rent an apartment, even obtain employment. Surveys show that victims must spend a great deal of time to regain their financial health.

A study by the Identity Theft Resource found that typical victims spent hours to clean up their credit report. For additional surveys, see our web site at www. Identity theft is an opportunistic crime. The majority of criminals obtain the tools of their trade -- Social Security numbers, credit card account numbers, dates of birth, and mother's maiden names -- wherever they can find them, for example, by digging through trash and stealing mail. It will not take long before identity thieves realize they can find such data much more easily online via public records. In fact, an Associated Press article in March reported that identity thieves accessed the government web site for Hamilton County Ohio to steal Social Security numbers and other personal data of hundreds of Ohio residents.

A federal grand jury indicted eight individuals suspected of operating an identity theft crime ring. Individuals will experience shame and embarrassment, even discrimination, when details of their personal lives are broadcast in court records available on the Internet. The PRC has been contacted by many individuals who have relayed such experiences. Reputations will be destroyed because of errors. There is no such thing as a perfect data base.

And there are no infallible users of data files. We are already seeing the growing problem of individuals who are wrongfully linked to crimes they did not commit because of identity theft.

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This occurs when an imposter uses an innocent person's identifying information when apprehended by law enforcement. Another scenario is when tax liens and judgments incurred by the identity thief are listed in the name of the innocent victim. In other situations, the background investigator obtains information on the wrong John Doe, not taking adequate care to match the information with the correct individual.

Another scenario is when the information broker's files are not up to date and the investigator, perhaps an employment background check company, is not informed of acquittals or dismissals. To read the stories of several individuals who have had difficulty obtaining employment because of problems with background checks, read the PRC's comments to the U. Personal safety risks. Victims and witnesses who are named in court records could be put at risk.

The personal safety of victims of domestic violence and stalking, for example, could be jeopardized. A domestic violence expert who contacted the PRC told me that many victims of stalking and domestic violence do not file cases in court because they do not want their private information being in the public arena for fear of it being used by the stalker to locate and harm them. Witnesses to crimes could also be put in harm's way because of retribution from the perpetrators and other parties to the crimes. Secondary uses of information. Data from electronic public records files will be used for secondary purposes that stray far from the original public policy purposes for which they were first created, that being government accountability.

Compiling public records information from several sources and merging them with commercial sector data files allows the data to be sifted and sorted in many different ways. Brand new records are created. The types of uses that can be made of these new records extend far beyond the original public policy reason for collecting them.

A Utah court, for example, learned that a resort that catered to singles was accessing divorce files in order to obtain the names of individuals to receive its marketing solicitations. Dossier society.

But there are far more serious consequences to merging disparate electronic files of personal information into massive data bases. We are becoming a "dossier society. His main concern is the compilation of bits and pieces of information about us from disparate sources, taken out of context, and then used to form conclusions and make decisions about us. He says: ". Solove cites the errors in the data supplied by ChoicePoint to Florida election officials that prevented many individuals from voting in the November election.

They were wrongfully listed as being felons. A particularly troubling consequence of untrammeled access to electronic public records is the loss of "social forgiveness. Your conviction of graffiti vandalism at age 19 will still be there at age 29 when you're a solid citizen trying to get a job and raise a family. There are precedents for restricting the amount of access to various informational histories. One is the rap sheet -- or criminal history -- which in California and many other states is confidential, not public.

Juvenile court files are sealed, at least for those youth not tried as adults. On the private sector side is the credit report. Documentation of a bad payment history can only be kept on the books for seven years -- a bankruptcy for 10 years.

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In these ways, society allows the possibility "starting over. As a consequence of all the factors I've raised here, I predict that our society will see a growing number of individuals who are disenfranchised for life. Large numbers will not be able to find employment because of negative information in court files - whether true or not - from years gone by. Or they will be relegated to lower-paying jobs in the service industries, unable to bring their true abilities into the employment marketplace. We have been contacted by many such individuals in our ten-year history.

I believe, sadly, we will be contacted by many more. Case in point: Wall Street Journal reporter Ann Davis recently reported on the increased use of background checks by American companies in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks of September 11, She tells the stories of many individuals who have lost their jobs because of relatively minor crimes committed many years ago. She quotes Lewis Maltby of the National Workrights Institute: "There are millions of people in America who have done something illegal at some point in their lives.

It's unfair to deny someone a job or destroy their career because of something they did 10 years ago that wasn't job-related to begin with. As above, many of the following points pertain to court files Limiting what is posted online. Court systems can start by posting only the court indexes, registers, and calendars on the web rather than the full texts of court proceedings. Using a "two-tier" access policy, the full-text of, say, divorce records would still be available at the courthouse.

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Electronic access would be limited to the case details - names of parties, date of divorce, court information and so on. Morgan espouses the concept of "two-tier" access, especially for such court files that contain highly sensitive personal information such as divorce records. Morgan points out that divorce records may contain a significant number of allegations that are untrue and that one party has inserted into the file as a form of "gentle extortion," perhaps to obtain child custody or to be awarded full title to the family home.

Laura W. Adopting automation systems with redaction features. Court systems can demand that the automation systems they procure are able to support flexible redaction features.

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Such systems should enable sensitive information to be tagged so that when the files are loaded onto the web site, it is blocked from view. Examples of the kinds of data to be redacted are: Social Security numbers, credit card and bank account numbers, specific investment information, and medical records information. If computer systems are not yet available that support redaction, court systems should wait until they are more widely accessible before posting the full-texts of court documents on the web Robust rules of court.

Courts must adopt rules that prohibit the most sensitive of court files - including family law cases - from being posted in full on public web sites. The following are useful resources on this topic: The California Judicial Council has recently adopted rules of court December that prescribe what types of records can and cannot be accessed electronically by the public.

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