The Courts Are Trying To Protect Your Privacy-A Little Bit!

The Courts Are Trying To Protect Your Privacy-A Little Bit!

You go to the Howard County courthouse. You go with your Howard County divorce attorney. You are both going to view the Court file, as SIEGELLAW’s attorneys often do with their clients. You open up the file and see that your separation agreement is missing from the Court file. Then you see your financial statement, which was supposed to be sealed in an envelope, is also missing. What do you do? Your personal identity may have just been stolen. Aren’t the Courts supposed to protect your personal information?

The short answer is generally–no. Until now.

Everyone has their own perception of the Court system. Some of them are correct, but many of them are wrong.

Would it surprise you to know that virtually all court records are public?

Did you know that data mining in Court files is rampant?

Think about what is there. Your Complaint for divorce might contain your children’s dates of birth. Certain mandatory filings may include your bank account information, specific information about property you own and even your social security number and date of birth.

Do you have a separation agreement? If so, it may be a public document in the court file! What a treasure trove for the wicked! Virtually all of your private information all in one place!

This has been a problem facing the court system for decades, yet absolutely nothing has been done to protect litigants from incursions of their confidential information, except for one very small advance several years ago to place financial statements within the court file, in a closed envelope.

Seriously? If you are already a criminal and looking in the court file, then how is an envelope going to stop you? Theoretically, there are criminal penalties for opening the envelope, but again, if you have ever been to a clerk’s office, you know that if you are a “bad person,” you can certainly take anything you want, usually unobserved.

Well, The Maryland Court of Appeals is issuing a new rule, called MD Rule 1-322.1, in an effort to create better privacy. In its simplest form, the new Rules prohibits filing certain private confidential information into the Court file, except under seal. The new Rule takes effect on July 1, 2013.

Will it succeed? Perhaps, at least in part. Will it stop “bad people” from their illegal data mining activities in court files? Doubtfully, unless clerk’s offices create a better oversight program so that individuals cannot be alone with court files. It could be as simple as putting a video cam in the room. It could be more complicated, including a set of eyes on each person looking at court files.

In any event, the new rule is well intentioned. It is a step in the right direction.

But at the last minute, right before the rule goes into effect, the Court of Appeals has back-pedaled and will continue to allow dates of birth to be used.

Will the rule work? Will it create privacy Doubtfully. Will it protect “some” information? Perhaps.

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