Private Investigators In Virginia

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Federal Courts Limit Case Information

Posted by Bill on December 6, 2007

 New Onerous Court Rules

With new rules providing privacy protection for case files posted on-line in the federal district, bankruptcy and appellate courts which are effective December 1, 2007, identifying specific persons subject of a federal case will be more difficult.  The new rules limit personal identifying data of a party to the case whether it is a civil, criminal or bankruptcy case.  The new rules were proposed by the Judicial Conference in accordance with the E-Government Act of 2002, which requires that each court make publicly available on-line any document filed electronically. The rules require parties to redact certain personal information from each filing.  The Supreme Court came up with the new rules to “protect privacy and security concerns related to electronic filing of documents and the public availablity . . . of documents filed electronically.” 

The Act required the Supreme Court to prescribe rules “to protect privacy and security concerns related to electronic filing of documents and the public availability . . . of documents filed electronically.”

The new privacy rules include Civil Procedure Rule 5.2, Criminal Rule 49.1 and Bankruptcy Rule 9037.   Appellate Rule 25 was amended to incorporate the new privacy directive. The rules can be found at Rules.

The new rules for civil, criminal, and bankruptcy courts require that case files show only the last four digits of a person’s financial account or Social Security number; only the year, not date, of someone’s birth; and only the initials, not name, of persons known to be minors.  Of course, this is restriction is for on-line case information such as you get when you use the Federal Courts Pacer system (Link is on left). 

Social Security and Immigration cases are open to the public but they will not be available for on-line access.  You will have to go to the court clerks office to look at these records.   Judge Lee Rosenthal (S.D. Tex.), chair of the Conference Committee on Rules of Practice and Procedure said “These records are often full of sensitive, highly personal information. The most obvious example is medical records. Because of the volume of the records and the extent to which they are made up of such personal information, it is not feasible to use redaction to protect privacy. The rules recognize these practical problems and do not require the parties to redact personal identifier information in these cases.”

Rosenthal added: “Because these filings will remain unredacted, it seemed prudent to keep them off the Internet, where they can be easily searched.” 

Although Social Security and immigration cases still will be available to the public at the courthouse, prohibiting on-line access “balances our long-standing commitment to keeping our case files public with the need to protect privacy in the age of computers,” Rosenthal said.  See full story at Newsletter of Federal Courts

For investigators, attorneys and others needing such public information for legitimate reasons, access is going to be more difficult–meaning higher costs to clients.

Bill Lowrance

President PIAVA


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