Supreme Court of Florida Appoints Committee on Privacy and Court Records

The Supreme Court of Florida has appointed me along with a bevy of state law luminaries to its Committee on Privacy and Court Records. You can read the Administrative Order (.pdf) and the Press Release. There is also a useful webpage with background information.

The tension between online public access to court documents and privacy raises really hard questions for which I have no ready answers. As an abstract matter it isn't easy to say why if a record is 'public' in the sense of being available in the basement of a courthouse somewhere it shouldn't also be available online for all of us who find it hard to get to that basement. On the other hand, as a realistic matter, some filings – especially pro se filings in family law cases – have lots of sensitive (and basically irrelevant) personal information that could easily enable identity theft. Putting that data online exposes people to substantial risks that it would be good to shield them from.

Florida law on procedure and on technology issues often serves as a model for South American courts, and even for other states. By addressing this issue directly, the Supreme Court is shouldering this responsibility in an admirable fashion.

Judging from the press calls I'm getting, the part of today's order that will get people excited is the interim so-called “moratorium” (expiring not later than July 1, 2005) on the provison of certain information for posting online. But if you read the whole order, you see that the Supreme Court exempts large classes of judicial information from what it rightly calls a “limited” moratorium—so at least at first reading it is hard to see what legitimate interests will be seriously harmed by this temporary order.

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