01/02/06    Letter sent to the Editor of the Daily News-Record in Harrisonburg, VA on 12/30/05.  This letter relates to the article in last week's Daily News-Record (Harrisonburg, VA) about "Online Records and SSNs".... and was one of the newspaper's most emailed articles...

Click here to email BJ Ostergren, Founder

Thanks for your paper's coverage of the Circuit Court Clerks online records mess.  I'd like to clarify a couple of things about the issue.  First - the records that Clerk Harper will be making available online contain not just thousands and thousands of Social Security numbers, but they also contain mother's maiden names, minor children's names, DOBs, signatures and personal details. Merely removing the SSNs will still put those other items at risk.  And what's the big deal about making copies?  The Clerk says it'll be 50 cents a page to make a copy on the internet.  But ANYONE who gets into the site can just write the SSNs, etc. down or just "capture" the screen.
Secondly, I agree that certain public records should be online like Board of Supervisor's/City Council meeting minutes, notices, agendas, county or city budgets, Planning Commission meeting minutes, notices, agendas and other things like Comprehensive Plans, but not the Clerk's records unless the children's names, and other items listed above are removed first.  But there will still be the juicy tidbits in those Final Decree divorce papers that shouldn't be available via remote access.
Thirdly, the documents recorded in the Circuit Court Clerk's offices were put there since it was supposed to be a "safe" repository for those records.  The Clerks took an oath and swore to God to protect them, but they're apparently not.  The Clerks and their Association are one of the main driving forces behind the idea.  And it still is a crime for a book to be removed from the record room; however, now the books don't need to be removed because our legislators have given their blessings to having these records on the internet.  How ridiculous is that! 
I say if you want to look at those records, drive to the courthouse where they're free.  People should have to put forth a little effort.  Tell your legislators to stop this in the next session of the General Assembly.  Tell them to repeal the law requiring online access!   It's the only way to protect those records.
Betty "BJ" Ostergren, Founder
The Virginia Watchdog

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