Are states making court records available electronically for the public?

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Many states have implemented procedures to allow for electronic access to court records. Most have come to the conclusion, through committee studies, that the public should be able to access court records regardless of the medium in which they are stored.

However, states have realized that there are additional privacy concerns when dealing with electronic access to court records. Many states respond to this issue by allowing electronic access only to non-confidential court records, as long as certain types of sensitive, personal information are removed from the records. This would include Social Security, credit card and financial account numbers, etc.

Most states have reached the conclusion that electronic access to court records should be provided in a way that is consistent with the fundamental right of public access to court records. States have further concluded that narrowly tailored exceptions to public access are acceptable as long as states do not make broad categorical limitations as to what the public can request. Almost all states will deny the public’s access to electronic records if the state has an interest in secrecy that outweighs the public’s right of access to a particular document.

Some state courts have also made digital audio recordings of courtroom proceedings publicly available online. The U.S. District Court in Nebraska and the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina were the first to make such recordings available, and several other courts have joined that movement.

In 2007, the Reporter’s Committee for Freedom of the Press conducted a state-by-state analysis of online access to court records.