Court halts online access to documents over privacy concerns

January 8, 2020 GMT

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — The North Dakota Supreme Court has suspended newly expanded online access to court documents after dozens of people complained about the potential loss of privacy.

In September, the high court changed its system to begin allowing online access to spare people the burden of having to go to a courthouse to request records. The change took effect Jan. 1.

State Supreme Court Justice Jon Jensen, who is now chief justice, had told The Bismarck Tribune the rule change was in line with national state court groups’ best practices to eliminate physical barriers to public court documents. But State Court Administrator Sally Holewa said Tuesday that remote access remote access is “on hold while we evaluate the situation.”

More documents than expected don’t comply with a 2009 privacy rule for redacting information such as Social Security numbers, birth dates, minors’ names and financial account numbers. It is the filer’s responsibility to follow the rule, Holewa said.

“As far as protecting private information, out of an abundance of prudence, we want to take a step back, try to evaluate where we’re at, try to look where we can go in the future,” Holewa said. She said the court remains “very much committed to removing these artificial barriers” to public documents.

“If something’s public, we shouldn’t have artificial barriers that say we’re going to make it really uncomfortable for you to go get something you’re entitled to,” Holewa told the Tribune. “We’re still looking at the right balance and how do we achieve that.”