There I was in the train station, reading the newspaper while waiting for my train when I heard a man in a loud voice say, Representative. I turned to see a man using a pay phone and empathized with his plight to get a live person on the other end of the line. But then the man stated and spelled his name for the representative, said he was going to give his social security number and then did so in its entirety, and finally blurted out his date of birth. Can anybody say identity theft? Yet none of it seemed to phase the man, who was just trying to obtain information about how certain stocks were doing in the market that day.
In today’s world, people are concerned about the misappropriation of information they provide electronically. So it was hard to believe that the man, who I later heard state that he was a lawyer, would voluntarily broadcast his personal information. The concern to protect the privacy of personal information from falling into the wrong hands is the subject of a report and proposed a statewide rule of the New York City Bars Council on Judicial Administration released last month. The proposed rule would sharply curtail the inclusion of “sensitive personal information” in civil court filings.
The City Bar is concerned not only about the increasing availability of court documents on the internet, but also the permanence of release of information. Once on the internet, information can remain on the internet even where the initial post has been removed or amended by the party posting the information. The City Bar’s proposal would require that civil court filers omit or redact nine categories of information, including Social Security, taxpayer identification, driver’s license numbers, the names of minor children, dates of birth, bank and financial account numbers, government-issued identification numbers, and “other identification numbers which uniquely identify an individual”
. The City Bar states that it believes its proposed rule is unique and stronger than those that exist in other states or on the federal level in that it includes more categories of information, and perhaps more importantly, because the rule begins with the presumption that the sensitive personal information should not be included in court filings at all, even in redacted form. Having a statewide rule, as opposed to individual rules as have been implemented, is considered of great importance to the Bar.
One example of these individual rules came in January, Supreme Court Justice F. Dana Winslow of Nassau County refused to order a subpoena in a medical malpractice case because it contained the Social Security number of a deceased nursing home resident, and said that he would no longer “entertain or otherwise execute” any application with such information. Even the federal system Pacer, the government-run Public Access to Court Electronic Records system, is vulnerable to theft of the vast personal data contained in the federal filings.