After two weeks under fire, the Oklahoma Supreme Court said Tuesday it would revisit its rule that would have taken detailed court filings off its online site by June 10.
The justices made their earlier ruling in part because of growing concerns over what they deemed personal information showing up in court pleadings. That information includes social security numbers, financial account numbers. But the court expanded that to include dates of birth and home addresses.
That move prompted outcry from the media, some businesses and legal representatives. They charged it would make it more difficult to check the backgrounds of personal and professional associates.
Mark Thomas, executive vice president of the Oklahoma Press Association, told The Oklahoman‘s John Greiner: “The original order was too broad, and we applaud the withdrawal of the order, and we will serve on any task force designated to study this issue.”
It’s still too early to say who might be invited to take part in the Supreme Court’s task force, but we’ll stay tuned.
We haven’t heard much from the Legislature on this issue other than a few murmurs here and there. But the House did weigh in last week on a related issue when it passed this bill regarding identity theft. Officially, it’s called the Security Breach Notification Act, or HB 2245.
In a nutshell, HB 2245 sets up penalties for failing to disclose a breach of “personal information” contained in a database maintained by government, nonprofit or private industry. But it stops far short of the “kitchen sink” approach as to what constitutes personal information according to the new Supreme Court rule.
The bill passed the House by a vote of 98-0 and is now headed to the Senate.
Here’s how HB 2245 defines “personal information” in Section 2, Part 6:
6. Personal information means the first name or first initial and the last name in combination with and linked to any one or more of the following data elements that relate to a resident of this state, when the data elements are neither encrypted or redacted:
a. social security number
b. driver license number or state identification card number issued in lieu of a driver license, or
c. financial account number, or credit card or debit card number, in combination with any required security code, access code, or password that would permit access to the financial accounts of a resident.
The term does not include information that is lawfully obtained from publicly available information, or from federal, state or local government records made available to the general public.
Now, here’s how the Supreme Court defined “personal data identifiers” in its rule:
A. Social Security Numbers. If an individual’s social security number must be included in a pleading or other document, only the last four digits of that number shall be used.
B. Taxpayer Identification Numbers. If a taxpayer identification number must be included in a pleading or other document, only the last four digits of that number shall be used.
C. Names of Minor Children. If the involvement of a minor child must be mentioned in a pleading or other document, only the initials of that child shall be used. In the alternative, the filer may refer to the child in the manner that shields the identity of the minor in the context of the proceeding (i.e., by symbol [Child A, Child B]; as Doe1, Doe2; or by the child’s status in the litigation [Witness, Victim, Ward, Beneficiary]).
D. Dates of Birth. If an individual’s date of birth must be included in a pleading or document, only the year shall be used.
E. Financial Account Numbers. If financial account records are relevant or mentioned in a pleading or other document, only the last four digits of these numbers shall be used.
F. Home Addresses. If a home address must be included in a pleading or other document, only the city and state shall be used.
You could probably make a decent case for not having Social Security numbers, account numbers and names of minor children in some court filings. But it’s a stretch for the Supreme Court to redact addresses and dates of birth, especially in the age of Facebook, MySpace and online telephone directories.
In the offline world, I’ve had at least three thick telephone directories land on my porch in the last six months. Included in there? Literally hundreds of thousands of home and business addresses.
Meanwhile, on the identity theft and fraud front is the latest report from Javelin Strategy & Research, a technology consulting group in California.
Here’s the highlights:
- “Although many people believe that most identity theft only occurs over the Internet and that hackers are responsible for all identity theft and fraud, Javelin’s research has found that many thefts occur in the physical world.”
- “Among the 35 percent of victims who knew how their data was taken, lost or stolen wallets, checkbooks or credit cards accounted for more than twice as many instances of theft than all online channels put together.”
- “Over the past 12 months, 8.1 million Americans were victimized by identity fraud, a crime amounting to $45 billion. Although both the total number of victims and overall monetary losses have steadily decreased over the past four years, consumers and their financial institutions must continue to take protective measures against this serious crime.”
Javelin’s research was funded by in part by CheckFree Services Corp., Visa USA and Wells Fargo Bank. But it did note, “To preserve the project’s independence and objectivity, the sponsors of this project had no involvement in any portion of the tabulation, analysis or reporting of the final results.”
Talk about swift justice.
Meanwhile, FOI Oklahoma honored Ben Blackstock, former leader of the Oklahoma Press Association; Malia Bennett, communications director for the Oklahoma Senate; and Senate staffer John Warren for their open government efforts.
According to the Associated Press:
Blackstock was instrumental in establishing the state’s Open Meetings, Open Records Act and he has worked to police it since its passage.
Blackstock, through OPA, continuously lobbied the legislature to adapt and adhere to the open meetings, open records laws.
Bennett and Warren won a Sunshine Award for their efforts to Web-cast Senate floor sessions and committee meetings.
FOI Oklahoma gave out its awards at the Capitol as part of the nationwide Sunshine Week, which highlights transparency in government.
In other news, Oklahoma Supreme Court Chief Justice James Winchester has asked Michael Evans, administrator of the state court system, to gather responses to the Supreme Court’s rule last week.
You can e-mail your comments and concerns to Evans at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Oklahomans, dust off those rotary phones and pull those heavy old TVs out of the garage, we’ve just taken a step back 30 years.
The Oklahoma Supreme Court dropped a bombshell Tuesday afternoon when it issued a rule regarding privacy and public records of court documents. Concerns over identity theft now mean that detailed court records previously available on the Oklahoma State Courts Network will not be available online after June 10. You can still go to the courthouse to get the court filings, though.
Ironically, you can read the court’s ruling here–on its Web site.
The court also ruled that certain sensitive information such as drivers’ license numbers, medical records, employment history, individual financial information can be omitted from state court filings in district courts.
Sounds reasonable enough, right? After all, identity theft is a real threat, with Oklahoma ranking No. 23 in incidents per 100,000 people. (More here at the Federal Trade Commission.)
But the Supreme Court’s ruling is a blow to open government and accountability, said Joey Senat, journalism professor at Oklahoma State University.
“It seemed to come out of nowhere, in particular with no discussion with stake holders,” Senat said of the ruling. “They are trying to stop a problem they are not sure actually exists, but they’ve cut off public access.”
The ruling really concerns two issues. The first is whether or not sensitive information should be included in public court filings. The second is whether the court filings themselves should be available on the Web.
Senat could only speculate as to why the court decided to issue its ruling, with apparently little input from others apart from court clerks. Maybe they saw one two many stories like this one from NBC News last year.
The ruling doesn’t alarm just journalists or open government experts. It affects you, too. If you need to check out your doctor or your daughter’s new boyfriend, you’ll now have to take a trip to your county court house rather than looking them up online for possible lawsuits or criminal complaints.
A couple of justices did dissent in part from the majority ruling, saying this:
Currently there are no applicable Oklahoma statutes, court rules, or court orders in place to address the publication and distribution of electronic state court records in Oklahoma. Establishing such statutes or rules should be a collaborative effort of the bench, bar, court clerks, the Legislature and the public.
Senat said local open government advocates are weighing how to respond to the ruling. But you can be sure we’ll follow up with additional stories in Thursday’s The Oklahoman and online at NewsOK.com.
Chances are, you don’t think much about data on a regular basis. You’re busy with everyday life, your job, friends, family or faith. But unless you’ve dropped out of society all together, data touches every part of your life.
Your bank transactions. Your driving record. Your child’s test scores.
Some of that data in your life is held by government. A bigger chunk is held by the private companies you do business with every day. Almost all of it is held on a computer server somewhere in a database or other electronic form.
As Database Editor here at The Oklahoman, I’m paid to think about that data on a daily basis. Where it is, how officials use it, and how we can best analyze it to explain what’s going on in our state.
Here at DataWatch, you’ll learn what Web resources are out there to help you make better sense of an increasingly complex world, one where information and data comes at you at light speed in ever-changing forms.
If you’re younger than 18, you’ve probably never known a world without the Web. You’ve probably never searched a library catalog using paper card files. You’ve probably never handwritten a letter longer than one page. But if you’re older, you’ve watched an online world get bigger, more complex and (sometimes) scarier by the day.
I’ll let you know about fun little sites like this one where you can look up viewer complaints of your favorite TV shows, like The Daily Show or Desperate Housewives. Or our own Bob Stoops Salary Calculator, which lets you find out just how long you’ll have to work to make what OU’s football coach will make this year.
I’ll also let you know about some of the latest developments in open records and open government, both at the state and federal level. We simply couldn’t put out a newspaper and update our Web site without access to paper and electronic documents held by all levels of government.
Finally, I’ll be highlighting and fact-checking some of the stories out there that deal with numbers and statistics. Like this one about how likely it is an asteroid will hit Earth. Or this one about peanut allergies.