MINOT, N.D. — At some point this evening, with no announcement or explanation I'm aware of, North Dakota's judicial branch took down an expanded online records system I've been writing about for days now.
The system, which you can find at publicsearch.ndcourts.gov, seems to have resorted to a previous iteration that indexed criminal and civil court files but didn't give internet users access to the documents themselves.
Much of this information is still available if you request documents through a court clerk, though hopefully not information like Social Security numbers, which are never supposed to be public.
Still, this information has been online for days, and you have to wonder how much harm has already been done. There was no login required to access these records, or even a captcha, meaning data miners could have already downloaded and stored many if not all of these records.
This evening I received an email from a Fargo resident that is pretty representative of the sort of frustrated communications I've been getting since I first started writing about this a couple of days ago.
"A $30 traffic ticket I had years ago shows some very personal info about me, including my name, height/weight/hair color/eye color/age/race/weight, home address, home phone number, DOB, driver’s license #, vehicle info including my license plate number, vehicle make, model, color, my social security number, and my signature," this reader told me.
"I called the local court, in this case the Fargo municipal court. The message I heard from them is, that this info was available before, and they really don’t have a process to redact this info. I am still waiting to get a call back for clarification, but basically I felt like they were telling me that there is nothing I can do about it," he continued.
His last message to me said he was considering getting an attorney involved, though he was loathe to go through the expense. Still, he felt he had to protect himself.
Thanks to the courts taking this information down, there is less urgency to the situation though, again, how much damage has already been done?
I support an online records system for the state, but what the courts did in putting this particular system online is potentially put thousands of citizens at risk of identity theft, and possibly worse.
Our state Supreme Court justices, who are elected officials and in charge of administering the court system, owe us an explanation for how this happened, what they're going to do to help people potentially harmed by these actions, and how they're going to prevent something like this from happening again.
Incoming Chief Justice Jon Jensen is not only the leader of our state's judicial branch of government now, he also presided over the committee responsible for this debacle.
We need to hear from him, sooner rather than later.
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Rob Port, founder of SayAnythingBlog.com, a North Dakota political blog, is a Forum Communications commentator. Listen to his Plain Talk Podcast and follow him on Twitter at @RobPort.