Panel of Federal Judges Recommends Guidelines for Online Access to Federal Court Records
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On August 15, a panel of 14 Federal Judges issued its "Report on Privacy and Public Access to Electronic Case Files" (PDF file requires Adobe Acrobat to view) which recommends guidelines for limiting the accessiblity of court records online. The judges, members of the Committee on Court Administration and Case Management of the Judicial Conference of the United States, unanimously endorsed the report.

The Committee recommends:

  • Documents in civil cases should be made available electronically to the same extent that they are available at the courthouse with one exception (Social Security cases should be excluded from electronic access) and one change in policy (that certain “personal data identifiers” should be modified or partially redacted by the litigants; these identifiers are Social Security numbers, dates of birth, financial account numbers and names of minor children). [In reality NOT to the same extent as in person.]
  • Public remote electronic access to documents in criminal cases should not be available at this time, with the understanding that this policy will be re-examined within two years of adoption by the Judicial Conference.
  • Documents in bankruptcy case files should be made generally available electronically to the same extent that they are available at the courthouse, with a similar policy change (as in civil cases) to modify or redact personal identifiers (see above). Section 107(b)(2) of the Bankruptcy Code should be amended to establish privacy and security concerns as a basis for the sealing of a document; and the Bankruptcy Code and Rules should be amended as necessary to allow the court to collect a debtor's full Social Security number but display only the last four digits.
  • Appellate case files should be treated at the appellate level the same way in which they are treated at the lower level.

The full 27-member Judicial Conference, which makes policy for the federal courts, is expected to consider the report and recommendations when it meets September 11.

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