Digital Court Records

Maintaining Public Trust in State Courts: Why Privacy Matters

This post is part four in a series examining privacy and transparency issues in the context of public access to digital court records, building on my essay “Digital Court Records Access, Social Justice and Judicial Balancing:  What Judge Coffin Can Teach Us.”

Trust is a precious commodity.  Our social interactions, as well as our relationships with businesses and other organizations, including government agencies, are dependent upon it.

Although trust can be defined in various ways, at its core, according to scholars, “[t]rust is a state of mind that enables its possessor to be willing to make herself vulnerable to another – that is, to rely on another despite a positive risk that the other will act in a way that can harm the truster.”

People disclose more when they trust.  When they believe the other party is trustworthy, they are more likely to share information about themselves.

Pine

Rolling the Dice: How Not to Protect Privacy

This post is part three in a series examining privacy and transparency issues in the context of public access to digital court records, building on my essay “Digital Court Records Access, Social Justice and Judicial Balancing:  What Judge Coffin Can Teach Us.”

Maine state courts plan to start rolling out a new electronic filing and case management system by year’s end.  When it’s fully operational, approximately 85% of the electronic documents submitted by filers will be immediately accessible for public inspection upon acceptance by the court.  With a few exceptions (e.g., certain adoption, child protection, juvenile, and mental health civil commitment records), all criminal, civil, and traffic infractions records would be publicly available. Some records would be accessible only at the courthouse, while others would be accessible to the public both remotely (via the internet) and at the courthouse.

Foolhardy as it seems, the SJC plans to leave it to filers to serve as

The Data De-Identification Spectrum

This post is part two in a series examining privacy and transparency issues in the context of public access to digital court records, building on my essay “Digital Court Records Access, Social Justice and Judicial Balancing:  What Judge Coffin Can Teach Us.”

Given the significant risk of harm to individuals stemming from data re-identification, it is imperative that the SJC account for data identifiability in determining which information in court records will be made accessible to the public through its soon-to-be-launched digital system.  Data identifiability is a factor wholly separate and distinct from the sensitivity of data.  It exists in varying degrees along the de-identification spectrum.

In its 2012 report, “Protecting Consumer Privacy in an Era of Rapid Change, the FTC concluded that the process of removing personally identifiable information (PII) from data is not a silver bullet, acknowledging the broad consensus that “the traditional distinction between PII and non-PII

Redaction and Re-identification Risk

This post is part one in a series examining privacy and transparency issues in the context of public access to digital court records, building on my essay “Digital Court Records Access, Social Justice and Judicial Balancing:  What Judge Coffin Can Teach Us.”

In its proposed electronic court records access rules, the Maine Supreme Judicial Court (SJC) imposes on litigants new and extensive filing obligations, including requiring litigants to redact certain categories of sensitive personal information.

Regardless of what one might think about the wisdom of placing this burden on litigants, it is important to ask what the SJC hopes to achieve by this requirement.  Even assuming full compliance, which is doubtful, redaction as a de-identification technique, without more, would be wholly inadequate to protect the privacy of Maine citizens.

In today’s big data world, given the sophistication of data handlers, it is well-recognized that de-identification alone is not enough to prevent re-identification of