Monday, July 26, 2004

Court virtually eliminates paper

Online deadline approaches in Indiana

By Charles Wilson
The Associated Press

INDIANAPOLIS - On a counter in the U.S. District Court clerk's office sit a computer and a heavy iron stamper used to imprint the court seal on legal documents - symbols of changing times at the federal courthouse.

The days when lawyers and messengers have to race to file papers before the courthouse closes are fading as printed records give way to online filing, although fully electronic records are still years away.

On Sept. 1, the Indianapolis court moves a bit closer to that reality when documents in all civil cases filed on or after July 1, 2002, must be filed online.

The change is part of the E-Government Act of 2002, aimed at using information technology to make government more accessible and increase efficiency.

Twenty-one district and 55 bankruptcy courts already use the online system, which allows lawyers with a court-issued password to file documents 24 hours a day.

The public can view and download many documents on the Internet. An online account is required, and the government charges a fee of 7 cents per page accessed.

While advocates like the accessibility, some experts say it could create the potential for abuse.

The online documents are encrypted and a login code is required to view them, said Greg Barnes, the court's system manager. Court files are stored on file servers in three cities and backed up instantly on computers in Washington.

No firewall can make a system completely impenetrable to a determined hacker, said Bruce Schneier, of Counterpane Internet Security Inc. in San Jose, Calif.

Still, Schneier said, he comes down in favor of public access.

"Just because there's a security risk doesn't mean you shouldn't do it," he said.

The real issue is not security, but policy, argued Lauren Weinstein, of People for Internet Responsibility. The wealth of personal information in some documents could be a gold mine for identity thieves, stalkers and other abusers.

Most district courts require that sensitive data such as Social Security and bank account numbers be removed before documents are filed either online or on paper, said Wendy Carpentier, who administers the Indianapolis court's online system.

Clooney stays home from convention
Chalk one up for Patchwork Kids

Kerry: Seeking an edge in Ohio
But first, Bill and Hillary
Kerry throws out Yankees-Red Sox first pitch
Protests precede convention
Speech advice: Be upbeat, stick to message, be gone
Balloting method on trial
Clermont fair salutes military
Vanishing history recorded
Injured soldier finds support upon return
Lead in soil may be local phenomenon
Four girls hurt in Butler Co. crash
4-year-old in chains rescued from fire
Festival spotlights Negro League
Court virtually eliminates paper
Children's Games groups grounded by visa problems
Local news briefs

Ky. candidates could benefit from Dean
Lots stirring interest

Study: Fewer took new GED

Evendale faces its future
Support group founder makes career of caring
Union Centre prepares for Bash

Helen Dorothy Forster, 91, worked as social worker
Edward Carter, 83, Holocaust survivor