New Pennsylvania Public Access Policy Implemented
As of January 6, 2018, a new public access policy affecting court records is in place. This policy has a great impact on the information members of the public can obtain from court records through a public access document request. The purpose of the new public access policy is to protect the privacy of litigants in both trial and appellate courts here in Pennsylvania.
What is the New Public Access Policy?
As noted, the purpose of this new public access policy is to protect the confidentiality of those involved in lawsuits. In the past, any member of the public could request a copy of a litigant’s public court filings, unless the record was sealed. Most cases are not sealed, and so, a great amount of private information was available to the public. This information could be used for identity theft, to track down victims of violence, or to cause other harm to those who were involved in a lawsuit. This new policy limits what is accessible to the public.
What Types of Information are Protected?
The protected information includes items such as:
- Social Security Numbers
- Financial Account Numbers (with some exceptions)
- Drivers License Numbers
- State Identification Numbers
- Certain information about minors
- Certain information about victims of abuse
In addition, two new types of cases will not be available to the public at all, due to the extent of the sensitive information. They are “cases pertaining to birth records” and incapacity cases. Further, family court records will no longer be accessible online. Instead, those seeking that information will need to go to the courthouse. Only content such as dockets, court orders, and judicial opinions will be available online.
The Process Lawyers Must Follow
Lawyers are now responsible for determining what information falls under the confidentiality policy. Then those lawyers must follow the new public access policy requirements. It is up to the lawyers and their clients to make certain that private information is handled properly. The courts are not responsible for reviewing the documents to make certain that private information is handled in the correct way.
There are two ways that protected information may be handled:
- A new form called a Confidential Information Form (CIF) now exists. This form must be attached to certain types of information that are now considered confidential. Any information covered under the CIF will not be shared with the public.
- In the alternative, the lawyer may file two versions of every document. One version of the document will be redacted (remove or hide the confidential information) and the other will contain all of the sensitive information. Only the redacted version of the filing will be shared with the public.
Each county in Pennsylvania has adopted or will be adopting local rules as to whether litigants must use the CIF or redaction. As a result, it is important to work with counsel familiar with local rules so that information is properly filed and shared with the court.
Make Sure Your Lawyers Know the New Policy
It is critical that your attorney be familiar with this policy and follow it properly. Your lawyer’s familiarity with the public access policy and its requirements will both protect your privacy and avoid the court having to take additional steps to protect you. In addition, it is important to make certain that your attorneys are able to properly redact documents. If the attorney or staff does not use the software properly or is sloppy when covering your data, your privacy will be compromised. Lawyers who do not follow the policy correctly may be sanctioned (fined) by the court. If you have any questions about your own family law case, please don’t hesitate to reach out to our Harrisburg lawyers for more information.