Thursday, March 02, 2006

Court records online

This latest press release came to my attention, which raises interesting perspectives about how we view personal information online. According to the report, the Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts is formulating a policy to govern which records - and what case information - will be available over the Internet.

Larry Frankel, the Pennsylvania legislative director for the American Civil Liberties Union, was among several people who argued that criminal case records should not be on the Internet before a defendant is adjudicated guilty. Frankel said many people wrongly consider an arrest equivalent to a conviction.

The report raises broader issues about the general publication of personal information online. It should be added that the US does not have data protection laws, but have an arrangement known as Safe Harbor between the US and the EU. It is unclear at this stage how much personal information should be included in a court record, but there was some discussion about whether to include date of births. However, there is some concern (see below):

The 13,000-lawyer Philadelphia Bar Association believes posting information about someone who has not been found guilty could unfairly tarnish their reputation, said Alan M. Feldman, the association's chancellor.

Certainly, the potential of confusion between individuals (without further detailed information such as d.o.b) may arise, but at the same time, one is wary about the amount of personal data that should be available in a court record online. This is certainly a difficult area, but it would be interesting to see what kind of policy is formulated.

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