Dallas County is Anti-Social

Dallas County has a great public records search page on its Web site that's fantastic for getting information on anything to do with the court system--or should I say, "used to have"? The court search function has been disabled because, according to an employee in the county's IT department, "a lot of people's personal information was on the Web site: Social Security numbers, home addresses, that kind of thing." It'll stay down for at least a week.

Now, open records are one of those things journalists get really fired up about--government accountability, foundation of the republic and all that. Home addresses of suspected and convicted criminals are arguably fair game for reporters and the public alike, but we can all agree that the Social Security number, the identifier most coveted by thieves, ought to be confidential. Thing is, I use that Web site a lot--almost daily--and neither I nor my colleagues can ever remember seeing a Social Security number on any records pulled from there. Is it worth shutting down the whole thing while they delete that info from what must be the oldest records in the database?

And reporters aren't the only folks who rely on the site; so do lawyers, defendants and plaintiffs...actually, anybody who has anything to do with the justice system. And that's a lot of records requests that now have to be handled manually by the folks in the county clerk's office. I'd like to get their perspective on this, but, strangely enough, the three different numbers I've tried have been busy all day. —Rick Kennedy

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