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Canadian Privacy Czar Wants To Anonymize Court Records On the Web 340

An anonymous reader writes "The web is evil and must be stopped — because it makes public information too public. So says Canada's Privacy Commissioner. She wants to 'anonymize' court records by substituting initials for names. The Toronto Star quotes Jennifer Stodddart as saying 'The open court rule, which is extremely historically important, has now become distorted by the effect of massive search engines... Court decisions and other related documents, which contain all sorts of personal information, are now searchable worldwide, which was never intended when openness rules were devised.' All Stoddart's proposal would do is erect a minor barrier for the techno unsaavy. Researchers, reporters, geeks, and most teenagers would still be able to figure out who's who. Stoddart seems to believe only in an abstract notion of freedom and access — but only as long as not too many people use it and no one suffers. She cites the case of someone who is upset at reading the divorce case of her parents. Is Stoddart a danger or a menace? Or just clueless?"
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Canadian Privacy Czar Wants To Anonymize Court Records On the Web

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  • by Valacosa ( 863657 ) on Thursday August 21, 2008 @12:00AM (#24685359)

    She cites the case of someone who is upset at reading the divorce case of her parents.

    Well, here's something: don't read it!

    "Wow, reading about the war between Georgia and Russia, the parliamentary fire in Eqypt, and bombings all over the world is really depressing. If only there was a law against printing all that uncomfortable stuff, my life would be a lot better!"

    • by Valacosa ( 863657 ) on Thursday August 21, 2008 @12:13AM (#24685449)
      Sorry, responding to my own post.

      Upon thinking about the issue some more, this reminds me of the case of Daryl Clark. He was arrested for masturbating in his own house, but he was visible to the neighbours. This was a case which went before the Canadian Supreme Court, but none of that is important.

      What is important is the neighbours watched him for 10 to 15 minutes at times using binoculars and a telescope before deciding they don't like what they see and calling the police.

      I don't know about you, but I don't have malware on my computer popping up divorce cases on screen. I don't get spams saying "Enl4rge your PEN!S, 4nd h3re's some d1v0rce pap3rs t00!" At some point this lady either decided she was going to look for the papers, or if turned up on Google, decided she was going to read the papers. She didn't like what she saw, and now is trying to change the world (for the worse) to suit her.

      Ironically, the court papers in the Daryl Clark case name the complainant only as "Mrs. S."
      • by thirty-seven ( 568076 ) on Thursday August 21, 2008 @01:08AM (#24685717)
        Relevant (I hope) joke:
        A little old lady called the police to her house, complaining that her neighbour stood in front of his window, completely naked, each morning. She took the police officer into her bathroom and pointed out her neighbour, who could be seen shaving through his bathroom window.
        "See," she said, "he hasn't got any clothes on."
        "He isn't wearing a shirt," replied the police officer, "but he's only visible from the chest up, so we can't know that he is totally naked."
        "Yes you can," she said, "if you stand on the toilet and crane your neck like this..."
        • (Phone rings)

          -- Hello? Sherriff's office!


          -- Yes, miss smedley. Yes, I went yesterday and told the boys who swam naked in the river near your house to go elsewhere.


          -- Well, I passed by some time ago, and they moved downstream a quarter mile, so you can't see them anymore.


          -- Well, of course, if you use binoculars, you can see them!!!


      • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday August 21, 2008 @02:18AM (#24686115)

        Actually I think it is a good step forward. The process is what should be transparent, not necessarily the ID's of the people involved. The fact remains is that the presumption of innocence should technically take precedence because some of these cases that get reported in the media end up being false accusations and what not. Therefore, keeping the names of the people involved anonymized UNTIL there is a conviction. After all if you want proof a false accusation can ruin someone's life in this modern era just imagine what would happen if you got accused of child molesting or child porn... Even if you are found innocent (which is not very likely since its an emotionally charged issue and people are more likely to apply guilty until proven innocent in their mental process), your name is out there, attached to such a case so you'll probably never get a job again, you'd likely be the target of vigilantes and since you're arrest in the police database you can expect there to be a lot of law enforcement harassment not to mention their records may still list you as a sex offender regardless of the court findings. People have been falsely accused and gone on to commit suicide as a result.

      • by iamacat ( 583406 ) on Thursday August 21, 2008 @02:33AM (#24686221)

        So, what is your point? Surely, the images of me doing various things at home are theoretically available to my neighbor with good binoculars, who happens to be watching at the right time. Does that mean that it should be also made available to two billion of my neighbors on Internet? If so, is it too much for me to ask that at least I am identified by initials rather than full name?

    • by PhreakOfTime ( 588141 ) on Thursday August 21, 2008 @12:33AM (#24685565) Homepage

      I know someone who works in the court clerk's office of my county, and I can rattle off hundreds of examples of this.

      One of the more notable ones was a real estate agent who came into the court and was upset that her case, and arrest, for DUI was posted online on the court schedule. Demands were made that this information not be published because the person was worried about how it would affect their reputation. I honestly dont think it ever occured to them to avoid the actual driving while intoxicated to avoid that damaged reputation. Only the publishing of that information was what was the problem.

      Closer to home, I had posted a listing of all the court cases of a local real estate agency. Some of them arbitration cases, and some of them small claims cases. All that was posted was an exact copy of the information from the court website. This was up for about 6 months when I received a letter from an attorney DEMANDING I take the information down because it was 'making knowingly libelous claims'.

      It gets worse. In the Cease and Desist letter, the demands were for me to turn over my domain names to this company free of charge, or they were going to move forward with criminal charges against me. Needless to say, I ignored the letter. Suprisingly, I never heard from them again. But that might be because I decided to post the nice Cease and Desist letter [] online that was sent by Caton Commercial []. I can only imagine the point at which they realized that it might have been a bad idea to bring MORE attention to what they were trying to keep hidden.

      To this very day, simply typing in the company name "Caton Commercial" into Google, returns the courthouse website and schedule with all their cases listed in the #2 spot. The 'streisand effect' is a beautiful thing to watch unfold sometimes. If you doubt the story, you can always type it in and see for yourself.

      • by Alaren ( 682568 ) on Thursday August 21, 2008 @01:23AM (#24685815)

        Do you realize how close this sounds to the "if you have nothing to hide, you don't need privacy" argument?

        What if the real estate agent were arrested for murder--but was innocent? Would you say, "I honestly don't think it ever occurred to them to avoid the actual murder?" And yet, they could face a gamut of consequences for publicizing the information that they were accused of murder. Other even less socially acceptable crimes, usually those against children or businesses, could result in a Google search that attaches the accused's name to certain charges, but doesn't say anything about whether those charges were meritorious.

        So if you make the damaging information super easy to find, but for some reason the exonerating information is difficult to locate, you've just ruined someone's life in the name of "keeping things open."

        I'm generally in favor of more open government, but where the private lives and reputations of individual citizens could be at stake before a verdict is reached, I'm willing to back off that position a bit.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Z00L00K ( 682162 )

        Any information communicated to a public office shall be expected to become public.

        But in the case of some court cases it may be reasonable to at least withhold most of the information including names until a verdict has been in place regarding the case to avoid unnecessary exposure for the innocent.

        Rumors will always circulate, but it's unnecessary to feed them.

      • by stoolpigeon ( 454276 ) * <bittercode@gmail> on Thursday August 21, 2008 @01:39AM (#24685903) Homepage Journal

        I wouldn't have a problem with my arrest for something being public, as long as it was just as public if I were found innocent.
        A relative of mine built a storage shed in his back yard. A neighbor didn't like it and called the city. An inspector came out while he wasn't home, took incorrect measurements, and left a large, neon colored notice on the front of his house saying that he was in violation of city ordinances. He had them come out, showed them that they were wrong, and they said, "oh - sorry". He said, "Well, go tell all my neighbors." Of course they didn't.
        A homeless man in Phoenix was picked up on suspicion of raping and killing a child a while back. They figured out pretty quickly that he didn't have anything to do with the child, but he did have other legal issues so he was kept in jail. That night it made the local news that he had been picked up in connection with the child's murder. He was beaten so badly he lost his spleen.
        People who are accused of something are not necessarily guilty and I can see why they may not want it broadcast all over the world that they have been accused, when it is not easy to also broadcast their innocence later.
        You can read about the guy who lost his spleen in this new times article [] that was written a bit after it all happened. It was all I could find, but this happened 8 years ago or so.

  • by Alaren ( 682568 ) on Thursday August 21, 2008 @12:02AM (#24685377)

    You know, the summary was great right up until the rhetorical barbs at the end.

    Court records are often sealed in order to protect (for example) trade secrets. Whole massive swaths of information that would be public under any other circumstances, gone in the name of a profit. Children involved in proceedings are also anonymized, on various beliefs about what children should and shouldn't have to endure.

    This proposal may be flawed, but it's nice to see someone talking about history versus technological reality. I'm hesitant to say that it's a great idea, to make information harder to get out of the government, but regardless of the weakness of the proposal, she's talking about a very interesting problem.

    I'd rather corporations be forced to disclose more and individuals forced to disclose less in this kind of thing, which I know is not the point of the proposal, but you can't just dismiss this as "danger or menace." There's a real problem here, and it's not an easy one to fix.

    • by hedwards ( 940851 ) on Thursday August 21, 2008 @12:17AM (#24685485)

      Considering that court rooms are generally open access, I don't see how bottling the information up later on is likely to be a good idea.

      Hiding court records except on a case by case basis when absolutely necessary is a menace to society.

      One of the major points of a free society is the openness of courts. The reason is that it's a lot harder to engage in shenanigans if you know that the public has the ability to attend the proceedings or view the record.

      • by Alaren ( 682568 ) on Thursday August 21, 2008 @01:08AM (#24685719)

        Hiding court records except on a case by case basis when absolutely necessary is a menace to society.

        It certainly can be. But so is a loss of privacy, and if you're not the one who brought suit, you may have very little control over how much privacy you get to maintain in the proceedings. I think a general loss of privacy can be a menace to society, too.

        One of the major points of a free society is the openness of courts. The reason is that it's a lot harder to engage in shenanigans if you know that the public has the ability to attend the proceedings or view the record.

        Oh, no doubt about it. But to your opening point--

        Considering that court rooms are generally open access, I don't see how bottling the information up later on is likely to be a good idea.

        The problem is not that the information is available--it's that the information is so readily available and easily searchable. Security through obscurity is one thing, but a lot of people will happily play voyeur (see earlier article on inappropriate email access!) if the price is low. Employers might not think past court appearances are a big deal... but hey, if it's free and easy to run a search, why not add that to the list of hurdles? Associating a cost, in time and effort and money, with something tends to make it so only people who truly value the information will get it, so you while you don't have perfect privacy, your depositions on your sex life with your ex-wife are unlikely to be turned into casual entertainment reading for the neighbors.

        The flip side, as I mention in another reply, is that the information can get priced so high that people who need it can't afford to get it, and obviously this needs to be avoided. But the issue is more complicated than "closing the courts." This is about the intersection of personal privacy and public welfare. I don't think either is important enough to flatly override the other, hence the interesting conversation.

      • by Urkki ( 668283 ) on Thursday August 21, 2008 @02:01AM (#24686035)

        Considering that court rooms are generally open access, I don't see how bottling the information up later on is likely to be a good idea.

        Any /. reader should comprehend the difference between some information being available by traditional means, and that same information being available worldwide via web to every data miner.

        Tell me, you're not even slightly worried about criminal organizations and foreign intelligence agencies (domestic "homeland security" types probably have full access anyway) and even tabloid newspapers doing data mining court records to find "interesting" potential victims, targets and recruits?

        Full online access does create a problem. Many here seem to argue that openness of information is so valuable that abuse, even criminal use should be made easy. I disagree strongly. I feel a person should have full control over what personally identifiable information about him is internationally available in the internet. For example any court text available online should not have any names in it (names replaced by numbers, for example). The full text should only be available in person, or via snail mail for a cost of "shipping and handling".

      • by phr1 ( 211689 ) on Thursday August 21, 2008 @02:56AM (#24686351)
        Considering that photography and audio recording are not allowed in many court rooms, I'd say there is a difference between making information publicly available ("speedy and public trial") in the sense of opening the process to anyone willing to drag their ass to the actual courtroom and watch the proceedings, and spewing it out in electronic form to every PC in the world. Yes there is often a transcript, but that doesn't capture anything like the nuances of the live event, and the judge often orders things stricken from it. Also, the most sensitive courtroom procedures, such as jury deliberations, are completely secret.

        Consider also the policies of most web forums, Wikipedia, etc. that posting someone's phone number constitutes harassment, even though the phone number is in the phone book. The people who institute those policies are not idiots, they simply understand there is a difference between theoretical equivalence and being the same thing in practice.

      • by houghi ( 78078 ) on Thursday August 21, 2008 @04:11AM (#24686675)

        Have you ever obfustigated your emailadress in something like or REMOVETHISuserATexampleDOTcom? This is the same thing.

        I think it is a very good thing. That way somebody who 20 years ago did something wrong, did his time and betterd his life won't be punnished for his crime a second time, just because you googled his name.

        The information is still available, so if you have interest, go to the court and read it there.

    • I very much agree.

      I think it's important to keep in mind the ever changing world we live in and make sure that the rules and values we hold grow and change with it.

      I am against anonymizing all legal records, and I'm not sure that doing that for online records will be a great benefit, but I do think it is necessary to make sure the intent of public records are upheld while ways of exploiting this information are dealt with.

      What I'm saying is, I don't really care if online records are anonymized, as
    • Whole massive swaths of information that would be public under any other circumstances, gone in the name of a profit.

      Yup. Talk about the Fishman Affidavit... []

    • "history versus technological reality"

      I would like it better if this way of thinking was applied to business and government databases. Business and government have always kept databases, But, the speed with which they can gather information from them has increased massively. That is a real threat to privacy. Currently, it is being ignored by the courts under the impression that speed doesn't matter. As an analogy, imagine being in combat where you were given orders by post, and the enemy could use radio..
    • by registrar ( 1220876 ) on Thursday August 21, 2008 @02:39AM (#24686265)

      You are right. A reasonable and informed person (the privacy commissioner) has raised some important issues. She should have the respect she deserves and don't assume that she is a danger, menace or clueless. The summary is way too inflammatory and emotive. The OP wrongly and somewhat offensively implies that this is something to do with freedom of speech or suppression of information. The OP should learn to assume that people in her position are as smart and as altruistic as him or herself.

      In fact, she clearly understands and values free speech and open justice or she would have proposed a major barrier that can't easily be worked around. The idea behind the solution she has proposed (make stuff hard to find unless people go looking) is not dangerous, not menacing, and certainly not clueless.

      It probably isn't the best solution, because she is not a technical person, and maybe she has a professional bias towards information containment. So if people feel strongly about it, they should demonstrate respect for her and her principles, even if they don't agree that there's a problem, or like the solution.

      Despite my UID and this post, I am not new here! (Because of my UID I am not New Here.)

  • Uhm, Hyperbole? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by i_ate_god ( 899684 ) on Thursday August 21, 2008 @12:02AM (#24685381)

    Maybe I'm missing something, but this summary really sounds like a bunch of hyperbole. Who cares if the personal data is anonymized? Sure, security through obscurity doesn't work, but it does filter out a lot of noise anyways, and in the end, names aren't whats important in reviewing cases, it's the decision and the reasoning behind the decision that matters.

    But the way this summary was written, you'd think the end of democracy is near.

    Then you end it with "Is Stoddart a danger or a menace? Or just clueless?"?

    Is this honestly how a debate will go these days? It's bad enough that canadian politicians bicker like little children, we don't need the high school like ultimatums or multi-anti-your-opinion-choice questions from the populace to throw into the mix.

    • Re:Uhm, Hyperbole? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Atlantis-Rising ( 857278 ) on Thursday August 21, 2008 @12:49AM (#24685619) Homepage

      A lot of people care, because a lot of the data that's posted is not necessarily what you'd imagine.

      In a typical divorce case, for example, full financial disclosure is made by all parties, in some cases down to detailed records of credit card expenditures. Even records of things like psychological evaluations might be included in the record.

      This is especially difficult because it can place innocent people between a rock and a hard place. You might be sued by someone with no reasonable case, but in order to put up a practical defense, you might be forced to expose all sorts of otherwise private information. Or, you may just want to get a divorce, and in order to do so be required to present all sorts of detailed financial and other types of data.

      Ordinarily, (i.e., before posting court data on the internet) it was difficult to obtain this information- it was generally expensive ($1/pg, or so) and time consuming (one had to go down to the court clerk). Slashdotters may not care that this is merely security by obscurity, and it is. But it does provide an effective deterrent for the court equivalent of 'script kiddies'- individuals who troll court records for data they think is worthy of blackmail or other intimidation. It's simply too expensive and impractical for them to do their business, while individuals who really do need that information, have it open to them.

      I believe it was, in fact, the Canadian Supreme Court which once said that 'must be available' does not mean 'we have to give it to you on a silver platter with a martini to your taste'.

      • Re:Uhm, Hyperbole? (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Telvin_3d ( 855514 ) on Thursday August 21, 2008 @01:50AM (#24685979)

        Actually, I don't think the traditional method of retrieving court information can be classified as security through obscurity. It is security through cost. Not so much cost in money but in time.

        Court records are open because it is assumed that anyone willing to go through the time and effort required to get a copy probably has a pretty good reason to want to see it. Historically, few people have gone t the trouble of looking up random court records on the off chance that it might turn out to be interesting. The likely payoff is so far below the effort needed that there has always been a better way to spend the time.

        So, records for a particular case? No problem. Large swaths of random records? Not worth it.

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          Indeed. And a fact that I failed to mention in my original post is that, in fact, in every jurisdiction I am aware of the Court has the ability at its own discretion to waive the fee, if you make an application that you are unable to pay it. So even that is not more than a cost of time.

      • It's a bit like spam: if email were $.50 a pop, then finding the one in a hundred people that will respond to your email costs you $50. Trolling court records is a lot harder if you have to get them in hardcopy or pay a fee.
      • by QuantumG ( 50515 ) *

        So fix the real problem. If Google started indexing and making available all of the public record, people would soon decide that they are not willing to go through the pain of airing their dirty laundry in public so they'll come to an amicable and private division of the marital property. The courts just shouldn't be tied up with rich people dividing their assets, for fuck sake.

        • The courts just shouldn't be tied up with rich people dividing their assets, for fuck sake

          What on earth makes you think it's just--or even primarily--rich people having rough divorces?

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          The problem is that often, only one of the parties involved starts an action and the other party is left with basically conceding everything to the party starting the action or airing their dirty laundry.

          The Court should not be a party to what is, at its most basic, extortion; and that's not a problem you can just 'fix' in any other way.

          This is the real problem, although I can see why it would pain the average slashdotter to admit it. Free and open is not always the best way to run a society.

          Moreover, as I

        • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

          by Lars T. ( 470328 )
          So to shut your stupid pie hole, all I have to do is slap a stupid case on your ass? Okay, YOU BROKE MY GARDEN GNOME.
  • Sounds reasonable (Score:5, Insightful)

    by JanneM ( 7445 ) on Thursday August 21, 2008 @12:03AM (#24685385) Homepage

    This sounds perfectly reasonable. Anybody with an interest can still easily find all needed information, while preventing a kind of panopticon of every single aspect of people's lives and pasts to be laid out like a frog on a dissecting table.

    Privacy is not binary; it is a sliding scale. This seems to hit a pretty good balance.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by QuantumG ( 50515 ) *

      How can any reasonable person have an expectation of privacy when their words are on the public record?

      It's the public record.. it's open to the public..

      • Re:Sounds reasonable (Score:4, Interesting)

        by sigipickl ( 595932 ) on Thursday August 21, 2008 @12:47AM (#24685611)

        It's the indexing of personally identifyable (sp?) information by third parties that is the issue. I hate to take the side of Ms. Stoddart (and the goverment) here, but she makes a valuable point. Example- I would hate for a court case between myself and my neighbor over the height of my hedges in Toronto to hurt my possibilities for a job in Florida all because an employer decided to google "my name". If the employer really wants to know, they can do a little leg work and go through the proper legal channels to find out. Otherwise they are jst fishing for dirt, and the indexing of your life on the web isn't helping your prospects.

        The limited sh*t that shows up under my name in google now is scary- and I have never been directly involved in legal matters (outside of a speeding ticket). Even if google doesn't index the site, someone else will, and google will index them.

        I wouldn't be so paranoid if I had not seen my own managers do google searches of names directly off resumes, then pass/circular file them based on info retrieved that may not even be that of the person who submitted the resume!

      • by drooling-dog ( 189103 ) on Thursday August 21, 2008 @12:48AM (#24685615)

        How can any reasonable person have an expectation of privacy when their words are on the public record?

        The "expectation of privacy" argument only holds water if you're an exhibitionist. Very few of the parties involved in legal proceedings are there because they want to air the details of their lives in public.

        It's important that court records be public in order that the legal system be transparent as possible. At one time, that meant that if someone was interested enough to go down to the courthouse and spend days wading through records, they could find out more about you than you might want them to know. With records online and searchable, however, it's a whole new ball game.

        Would you want your boss to see the ugly details of your divorce, for example? It's likely that (s)he could, if (s)he routinely googled everyone working for him/her. The ease with which this information can be obtained makes it a virtual blacklist. What if you were fired as the result of allegations - true or not - made by your ex? What if you could never get a decent job again because those allegations were always popping up during the screening process every time you applied for one? There are serious ramifications to the destruction of privacy, even though you may have to become a victim of them yourself before you'll realize it.

      • by houghi ( 78078 )

        So go to the courtroom and read them there.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      I'm not sure that things would be nearly so rosy in practice. The entities most likely to participate on the surveillance side of the panopticon, governments, data brokers(ChoicePoint and the like), are also the ones with the greatest ability to work around obfuscation. They have access to the most sources of data, and the most analytical expertise(and, as anybody who has ever tried to get an error on their credit report corrected, or tried to get off the no fly list, once you are treated as an authoritativ
      • They are also perfectly well able to hire people to go look at the files in person.

        The concern is that people could access these records anonymously and without supervision. Though yes, bigwigs and bad boys in the government and elsewhere can access these documents, odds are there will be a paper trail given the resources required to do this sort of thing. Barring the paper trail, there should still be some internal accountability - people can't use these resources on a whim, which I think is the point. I s

  • History (Score:3, Insightful)

    by sdemjanenko ( 1296903 ) on Thursday August 21, 2008 @12:09AM (#24685433) Homepage
    Well i can understand their concerns over privacy - but having an open, readily accessibly law system is important in any democracy. Also, what about historians 100 years from now trying to reconstruct these records - it would be much more useful if people's role's in society were not just a bunch of initials.
    • Re:History (Score:5, Informative)

      by Nutria ( 679911 ) on Thursday August 21, 2008 @12:20AM (#24685501)

      Well i can understand their concerns over privacy - but having an open, readily accessibly law system is important in any democracy. Also, what about historians 100 years from now trying to reconstruct these records - it would be much more useful if people's role's in society were not just a bunch of initials.

      It'll still be in the physical court records, and probably in the "internal" computerized documents.

      • It'll still be in the physical court records, and probably in the "internal" computerized documents.

        Yes, but the more complete and usable records are around (e.g. the internet archive making a copy of the court web site), the greater the likely hood that they will survive to the historian to use.

        • Firstly, I don't think a good reason to do anything today is 'so that historians in the future will have an easy time of it'. That just smacks of building your own legacy.

          Secondly, the Court is pretty much obligated to keep complete and usable records. That is part of their function, and I know such records go back at least thirty-five years easily (because those are the records which I have personally asked the Court to retrieve).

          I'm not sure I trust 'the internet' to keep a copy of those records for that

  • by Waffle Iron ( 339739 ) on Thursday August 21, 2008 @12:12AM (#24685445)

    She wants to 'anonymize' court records by substituting initials for names.

    My name is Xavier Zachary Quincy. How does this help me?

    • I say instead of initials, we substitute a SHA-256 hash of your legal name. For visual distinctiveness, we then interpret the result as UTF-16.

      Sure will make news reports about the cases more entertaining to listen to.

    • by Urkki ( 668283 )

      She wants to 'anonymize' court records by substituting initials for names.

      My name is Xavier Zachary Quincy. How does this help me?

      Try googling for xzq, and you'll have your answer.

  • False choice (Score:5, Insightful)

    by jamesh ( 87723 ) on Thursday August 21, 2008 @12:15AM (#24685473)

    Is Stoddart a danger or a menace? Or just clueless?

    Neither. If I was ever falsely accused and taken to court for something really unsavoury then having my name come up against the charges would not be such a good thing.

    Is it the records of the court case itself or the names of the people involved that is the important thing here? I'd say the former, in which case anonymising the names of those involved seems like quite a reasonable thing to do.

    Anonymising of email addresses is done all the time on publicly archived mailing lists and I don't hear an outcry about that.

    • Anonymising of email addresses is done all the time on publicly archived mailing lists and I don't hear an outcry about that.

      Okay, let me cry out about that: it frigging stinks when the archiver censors anything that matches [a-zA-Z0-9]*@[a-zA-Z0-9]*. Don't believe me?

      "You can access anonymous read-only cvs by doing $ cvs co :/projects/myproj/".
      "You can log in to our new world-wide shell account by doing $ ssh ."

      Forgive me for not remembering SMTP and current best practice well enough, but isn't it reasonable to expect "recipient doesn't exist" after RCPT TO but before DATA? The archiver could check that the strings it wishes t

  • Oh, the Irony... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Bieeanda ( 961632 ) on Thursday August 21, 2008 @12:16AM (#24685479)
    Anyone else catch that this is an anonymous reader complaining about adding a layer of anonymity to court records, before slipping in a few editorial jabs?

    I don't see anything wrong with it-- this is no different than case histories involving people listed as 'Mr. F---' and the like.

  • by lkypnk ( 978898 ) on Thursday August 21, 2008 @12:20AM (#24685503)

    Open but not "lying in the open" access to information is an important concept. In the United States, many privacy-related things are left lying in the open - who's in prison [], who's been arrested, the declared value of your home with the municipality. These can all be viewed online. In Canada, these are generally considered public information as well, but you can't access them that easily. They're not in a public database on the web. You have to write a letter or fill out a form and mail it in.

    Although information in court records is considered public, it has in every practical sense stayed obscure until fairly recently, because few people besides reporters would wander into a courthouse basement to read it, Stoddart said.

    There is a difference between in a basement in the public archives and online. When you make it easier to access a person's private information, you're more likely to have people doing look-ups for trivial/unjustifiable reasons. An employer doing a search on Google for an employee's name now might find a court appearance of the employee from several years ago for drug possession. The employee may have been acquitted, but that's still going to tarnish the employer's reputation of the employee. That's important, especially when discriminating based on arrest or court appearance record is illegal in Canada [].

    The Canadian legal system generally recognizes that access to such information in certain cases is extremely important. It is also recognized that publishing such information online in an easily accessible form could cause a lot of harm to a person's right to privacy. If it's important enough you need to know, it should be important enough for you to haul your butt to the local archives or paying the fee to have a copy mailed to you.

    I'm sure to many Americans it would seem a bit nutty, the idea of making it "sorta" hard to access public personal information, but it fits in well with previous thought on privacy in Canada.

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by mkawick ( 190367 )

      Guys, Canada has freedoms that Americans would love to have returned after DCMA, FISA, Patriot, and TSA. I have lived here for two years, from Texas, and the sense that you are in control of your own info is a comfort and a relief. Visa does not have the right to my Social Security number (SIN) and my pile of junk mail is very small. No corporation or governmental agency is invading my life, checking my credit, or calling me every hour. Freedom from government and corporations is just as important as freedo

  • People who scheme and lie often have patterns of behavior that may well predict what they may claim in future court cases and business issues. Making records extremely open is the only way to go.
    For example how about a fellow accused of date rape being unable to open records showing that the female has accused nine different men of the same thing over a twelve year period?
    Privacy and freedom are dead opposite notions. In a free society where anyo

  • Oh, come on (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday August 21, 2008 @12:30AM (#24685549)

    Yet another example of sensationalism on Slashdot. Ooh, the GOVERNMENT (!) wants to partially anonymize names of people in court cases online! This obviously is an invasion of our civil rights as citizens, even though we can still go to the court ourselves and get the full, un-"censored" names.

    It's nice to see people take on the challenges the 'net poses to privacy without resorting to proposing heavy-handed regulation or whatnot. But, really, this story is unfortunately is just another one of Slashdot's anti-government circle-jerks.

  • Good for Canada (Score:4, Insightful)

    by DTemp ( 1086779 ) on Thursday August 21, 2008 @12:37AM (#24685587)

    I'm just surprised they manage to have a Privacy Czar. With the U.S.A. about to grant telecom immunity for illegally granting surveillance to the gov't (who asked for it illegally), and the U.K. about to start monitoring EVERY electronic communication, I'm glad there's a country left that values privacy. Maybe I'll move there if America keeps letting me down.

  • who do not believe that privacy is relevant or has any value today. ...which is why I've arranged for infra-red web-cams in ALL of the rooms in your houses.

    Now, would you like initials with that, or full names and addresses?

  • Czar!?! (Score:5, Informative)

    by thirty-seven ( 568076 ) on Thursday August 21, 2008 @01:00AM (#24685661)
    "Canadian Privacy Czar"
    There are no "czar" positions in Canada, even in slang terms. Yes, I know that it has become a popular term in US politics - drug czar [] , war czar [] , etc. It's really, really stupid in that context, and in a Canadian context it is additionally inappropriate.
  • "An anonymous reader" - gee, somebody who won't give us his name is worried that world wide readable (and Googleable) court documents may not contain full names (in addition to all kinds of other private information) anymore.

    "Researchers, reporters, geeks, and most teenagers would still be able to figure out who's who" - so? They will also figure out my email-address from the blurb on top of this post - but a SPAMer will have a harder time writing a script to do it.

  • "Privacy Czar"??? What a pile of crap! She's practically powerless...can only make suggestions, as a matter of fact. And she can't so much as get the time of day from a government interested in prying into every aspect of its citizens' personal lives.

    The fact of the matter is that she's right. She's just not very tech-savvy. The whole point of the open court idea is that the government can't just grab somebody, try them in a secret kangaroo court, and throw them in some hole for the rest of their li

  • This is done in many countries, where all "Family Law" cases initials are used instead of names, and in ALL cases involving minors (just the minors names obviously).

    I guess if you took the trouble to actually go to the justice dept (or wherever they keep the physical files) and ask for xxx case the names would show up complete in the scanned docs (please tell me they ARE scanned and not microfilmed still, or even worse kept as hardcopy)....
  • by Ducon Lajoie ( 30475 ) on Thursday August 21, 2008 @04:07AM (#24686665)

    I see a lot of comments in this thread around the lines of "Well if you didn't want your name on a judgment, you shouldn't have done anything illegal". While this is a quesionable argument, it seems the slashdot crowd has not spent a significant amount of time looking at the crap some judges put in judgments.

    I've been personally involved with that kind of work (putting legal decisions online) and some of the stuff, especially in child abuse or sexual assault cases is just heart churning.

    Now think about how you'd feel as a teenager if whenever someone googles your name, they find out about what your uncle did to you when you were 6.

    Yes, court decisions should be public. Yes, in principle names should remain in there. But in some cases, it is really not appropriate. Note that if you really want to find out the info, you can always request it from the clerk of that tribunal.

    We have gone a long way from the days where the decisions were locked behind expensive proprietary databases, or dusty books. This have changed the effects of the principle of public availability of the law. Let's not go backward and realize that while the law needs to be public, associating some of the sordid details with an individual is not conducive to either the victim healing or the criminal being eventually rehabilitated. Its hard enough getting your life together with a criminal file when you have doe your time, making it even harder makes the whole concept of the sentencing futile.

    BTW, there has been a big effort in educating judges in thinking about they decisions being available to a larger clerk than the legal scholars.

  • This attempt to 'anonymize' will hide the details for only some people. If your name is Jim Jones you end up with JJ yet if your Quincy Zigler using QZ isn't hiding much.

  • In most common law courts, family law opinions are not public - moreover they are almost never public where minors are involved. If a decision is public, it probably rests on on a trust or contractual issue where equity is apportioned - eg: you don't know the relationship details of Paul McCartney's recent divorce, but you do know how his property was divided.

    I welcome this presumption of value in anonymity. It seems people are finally getting the fact that computer networks don't forget as they should. If

  • "She cites the case of someone who is upset at reading the divorce case of her parents"

    She actually used the excuse "Think of the children". And I thought everybody knew that was a cliche...

  • by voss ( 52565 ) on Thursday August 21, 2008 @07:23AM (#24687497)

    Issue 1) The privacy commissioner is talking about what the state does not what private individuals do. While this is a canadian story, I think it is completely reasonable for a court system to prevent google indexing(spider.txt??) of local court records to protect some measure of privacy of individuals. There are already publicly available properly indexed databases for criminal searches such as the NCIC in the US.

      If a party to a trial(other than the state) wants to publicize his or her case that is also reasonable.

    2) The right to privacy does not mean the same as a gag order. In a civil suit either party can publicize the case, Even in a Juvenile case criminal case a defendant can tell anyone they want.

    3) The right to privacy is a right just like freedom of speech is a right.

  • Real life (Score:4, Interesting)

    by smoker2 ( 750216 ) on Thursday August 21, 2008 @07:52AM (#24687641) Homepage Journal
    Two situations come to mind. Here in the UK (don't know about anywhere else) when a woman accuses a man of rape, her name is withheld from reporting, but the (often innocent) mans name is open to the world. Now that is wrong, and is used in malicious accusations again and again, especially when the accused is famous/rich. This needs to change - either both the names are published or neither. When the court has decided then the guilty party has their name published whoever that is. At present the womans name is withheld, even after a failed prosecution.
    Also, there was a story the other day about a wealthy executive who was murdered in her home. The story mentioned that she was married and her husband (47) was a car dealer. The story later mentioned that the police were holding a 47 year old man for questioning !!!
    What is the point of withholding the names if you give so many blatant clues that a child could figure it out ?
  • by EWAdams ( 953502 ) on Thursday August 21, 2008 @07:53AM (#24687645) Homepage

    In criminal matters, it's the government versus the accused, and liberty demands that such trials take place in public. But in a purely civil matter, the government is just an adjudicator -- the conflict is between two private people or institutions. Why SHOULD the public have access to divorce proceedings? The government has only a neutral role.

Where there's a will, there's a relative.