OKLAHOMA CITY (CN) – The Oklahoma Supreme Court has withdrawn an order restricting public access to court records. The withdrawn rules cut off Internet access to court records and required that lawyers omit “personal identifiers” from all court documents, including home addresses, birth dates, Social Security numbers, names of minor children and financial account numbers. The move came after widespread criticism from attorneys, free-speech advocates, law enforcement, court clerks, journalists and companies that do background checks.
Chief Justice James R. Winchester said the state Supreme Court was pulling the March 11 order to allow time for more study of the issue.
Winchester said the court was concerned about privacy and identity theft from online documents, and said the court might create a task force to address these concerns.
Some court clerks had said the restrictions were too broad and felt it was wrong to limit information that is a public record.
Free-speech advocates were pleased, as were attorneys, who said it would have been more difficult and expensive to send messengers to get information that now is available on the Internet.
Oklahoma Press Association executive vice-president Mark Thomas said that a “broad, sweeping closure of massive public records is not the answer to identity theft problems.” He said his office would “gladly serve” on a task force to prevent identity theft, but said the court documents should be available to the public.
Oklahoma State University journalism professor Joey Senat said the withdrawal “shows that the court realized that it had not really thought through the issue and had not listened to the people.” He said he would welcome more discussion on the issue, which is “what should have happened in the first place.”