THE VIRGINIA WATCHDOG
RETURN TO HOME PAGE
06/26/08 Pulaski County (AR) Circuit Court Clerk Pat O'Brien refuses to pull the plug on his website. The site continues to spoon feed literally tens of thousands of SSNs to anyone all over the world, but he has blacked out a few of them. Wonder whose? Read on and find out...
(Note from the editor of The Virginia Watchdog - 6/27/08 - Because the Circuit Court Clerk of Pulaski County pulled the plug on his site ;ate today we have decided to remove the unredacted records that we had linked to in this article.)
According to a front page story today in the Arkansas Democrat Gazette ("Clerk's site gets personal") about this online records mess, certain public officials' SSNs were blacked out by the Pulaski County (AR) Circuit Court Clerk's office yesterday, but they tens of thousands are still exposed on that Court records and Real Estate search site.
Elected Circuit Court Clerk Patrick O'Brien told the newspaper that "we can disagree about whether it reckless, but it's not illegal."
He's right. It's not illegal, but it is reckless. He took an oath to protect those records.
But they are public records in general circulation, his office says, and they are right about that.
O'Brien, a lawyer, says he intends to redact the Social Security numbers on his "land" records site, but he refuses to pull the plug until the job is completed which is expected to take six to seven months.
In the meantime, if one is lucky enough to find out about this online records mess and ask to have their SSN blacked out on a land record, then they will be protected if they call his office. But the key words here are "lucky enough" to know about this.
The vast majority of people who have SSNs on those public records though have no clue that their information is on the World Wide Web - much less their SSN.
So they don't even know to ask to have their SSN redacted. And forget asking about having the numbers blacked out on "Court" records. He says he needs a court order to black out anything on those.
He also is quoted in the Arkansas Democrat Gazette article that "this stuff" is owned by the public.
He's right and those records - "this stuff" as he calls them - were recorded in his office to be protected and for safe keeping but no one thought that he would put them on the World Wide Web without any safeguards even if they are public documents.
But now we find he has chosen to protect some big wheels first.
Here are more whose records have been redacted in addition to the two mentioned in this story from yesterday.
This redacted record... Here's the unredacted record... and this redacted record...and here's the unredacted record.
As long as Mr. O'Brien choses to only protect a few - and not all - of the people, then we will continue to post records we got off his public records website. He apparently wants those records open to the world as they have been for a long time, so we are obliging him and helping him spread word about his site.
Will he come to his senses?
The Virginia Watchdog's editor, BJ Ostergren, asked him to shut his sites down or make them subscription sites.
"Your request is denied," he said in an email to us.
He refuses to make it a "pay per view" site like Benton, Saline, and a very few other Arkansas sites. But most Court Clerks in Arkansas do not make their records available online in any fashion.
Regarding going to a subscription site, he told the newspaper reporter yesterday, "I'm not going to charge for this stuff. It's not going to happen."
He said there is an economic cost to NOT having this "stuff" online.
In reality, there is more of a cost by putting the records online like having staff spending six to seven months redacting SSNs and having to buy the software.
And at what cost to the citizens who will eventually find out their SSN is open to anyone...anywhere.
(c) 2003 Ostergren, P.C. (Page Format Only)