SKELETONS have come out of the closets and are creeping along Cincinnati's streets.
September 11, 2002 6:47 AM   Subscribe

SKELETONS have come out of the closets and are creeping along Cincinnati's streets. People say that Jim Cissell released them. Four years ago, Mr. Cissell decided that it was time to move the county's court records onto the Web. The documents were already public. They were already electronic. Where else to put public electronic documents but on the Internet?
posted by Irontom (9 comments total)
Lots of visitors, lots of comlaints. Lots of busybodies rubbing their neighbors' noses in unfortunate details from court proceedings.

We live in interesting times.
posted by Irontom at 6:48 AM on September 11, 2002

But most documents have been protected from public scrutiny by a legal concept known as "practical obscurity" — the barriers of time and effort that make it difficult to pull together information.
"Practical obscurity" is considered a legal concept, not just a pain in the ass? Any lawyers want to comment on this? Is it a viable tactic in court: "The records of that sale of land are unavailable due to practical obscurity?" Fascinating.
posted by PinkStainlessTail at 6:56 AM on September 11, 2002

Yes, this is a very interesting event. 'Security through obscurity' is derided in the computer security community. It's not reliable. But that's what governments have been doing with 'public' information such as court records.

But if it's public, it's public. And if it's easily in the technology for the public to have access to public records on-line, it's not right to deny it to them. What else is the Freedom of Information Act all about?

Some 'public' information will have to be re-thought. There's no reason anyone should have easy access to someone else's Social Security number, for example, and probably not to the floor plan of their house. But IMO, court cases are fair game. If your dispute spilled into a public courtroom, sorry bub, it's public.
posted by Slithy_Tove at 7:20 AM on September 11, 2002

This is an interesting issue. The point of contention is not that the documents are now public since they always were, but that they are now too easily accessible. Before Mrs. Grundy would not bother to go down to the courthouse to look up Ms. Jones' juicy divorce case, but now that she can look it up in two seconds, she will.

I suspect that we're not going to be able to get Pandora's box locked up again. In the age of information, privacy and anonymity immediately become casualties.

Imagine yourself having to fight a public battle to keep something specific private....
posted by orange swan at 7:32 AM on September 11, 2002

Also, the website is, not, or whatever. While you can claim that the city was being proactive in getting the easiest URL imaginable for its constituents, the enthusiasm inferred by the successful acquisition of that URL suggests someone who might be more than a little excited about the possibility of the web to disseminate information to his people. In other words, methinks he might have been asking for it. He's enthusiastically doing something that's not wrong, per se, and could even be construed as being extra-right, but it's still a slap in the face to a lot of people, and he dove right in.

That said, and as everyone here has agreed, security through obscurity is a terrible idea. A non-privacy tangent of the idea: Now, when you call information, they'll do reverse traces for you. But before the Internet made that service easy to perform (after all, anyone with a phone book and lots and lots of time could perform a reverse trace)? Forget it. I hate when companies engage in that kind of willful obsolence. We certainly could perform this very useful service for you, but why would we? It's not like we have any competition ....
posted by blueshammer at 8:02 AM on September 11, 2002

There's an interesting catch-22 with this though...they're "reviewing the line between public and private." Granted, I don't really want the details of my court case made available on the internet. But the fact that government records are public (obscure or not) has always been a comfort to me...
posted by sodalinda at 8:07 AM on September 11, 2002

I'm a resident of Cincinnati, and I never saw this site, obviously I searched for myself in the database and encountered something that gave me cause for concern:
I found what I expected to find (a 3yr old ticket), but I also found court documents concerning another person's numerous financial and legal problems (she had the same name as I). Granted, a quick visit to the clerk would likely distinguish between the two of us, but I wonder if potential employers, landlords, or neighbors in the future would end up using this site as a quick and cheap background check. It really wouldn't surpise me that if in the future I may have a few extra hassles if someone thought I was this other person.
posted by dicaxpuella at 9:00 AM on September 11, 2002

Ordinary individuals have found that they can delve into records that that were long the domain of lawyers, private investigators and credit companies, and use that information to size up one another

So lawyers, private investigators, credit companies, OK? Neighbors, not?

A teenager was confronted by his father about a speeding ticket

2,000 parents whose warrants for delinquent child-support payments are listed online. A woman called in recently after she found a co-worker's name while browsing the list.

A woman who had been dating a man who said he was single learned...that he was not.

These all sound like good developments to me.
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 9:01 AM on September 11, 2002

here in denton county, texas (just north of dallas) we have Criminal and prison records for anyone arrested or charged in denton, with the added bonus of mug shots.
posted by nadawi at 1:09 PM on September 11, 2002

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