Online case file limits proposed

Judges make first step in creating policy for electronic federal court case file information

A committee of federal judges has recommended that courts place some limits on the case file information they make broadly available on the Internet, according to a report made public Aug. 15.

The recommendations, made by the 14-member Committee on Court Administration and Case Management, reflect a growing concern about the privacy and security of providing electronic public access to court case files. They are the first step in creating a nationwide policy for electronic availability of federal court case file information.

The committee is part of the Judicial Conference of the United States, which is the policymaking body for the federal courts. The conference plans to vote on the recommendations at its Sept. 11 meeting.

The recommendations include:

* Documents in civil cases should be made available electronically to the same extent that they are available at the courthouse. However, Social Security cases should be excluded from electronic access. In addition, personal identifiers such as Social Security numbers and financial account numbers should be modified or redacted from civil case files.

* Public remote access to documents in criminal cases should not be available now.

* Documents in bankruptcy case files should be made generally available electronically to the same extent that they are available at the courthouse, but with personal identifiers withheld.

* Appellate case files should be treated at the appellate level just as they are at the lower level.

The committee's recommendations would not change how users access court docket sheets through the Public Access to Court Electronic Records system or court opinions through various Web sites. Likewise, availability of case files at courthouses would not be affected.

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