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Understanding the Public Access Debate

The debate over access to public records focuses primarily on concerns about privacy and identity theft and fraud. Technology advances and the growing trend of providing electronic access to public records have helped advance this debate. Proponents of limiting access to public records argue that the privacy protections once afforded by the “practical obscurity” of obtaining public records at a local courthouse no longer exist, and states need to consider other ways to protect the privacy of their residents. In addition, electronic access has also raised concerns over whether the information contained in public records may be helping to fuel identity theft and fraud activity.

This debate has raised numerous questions with which federal, state and local policymakers continue to grapple. Among the most prevalent is the whether certain personal information contained in public records should be restricted from disclosure? Central to this debate is whether public records are being used for identity theft and fraud purposes. CSPRA members feel strongly that imposition of restrictions on information contained in public records is not an effective policy pursuit. In fact, such attempts to restrict access will actually impede efforts to combat the very criminal activity they are purported to address.

Identity Fraud

Did you know that public records are being used daily to prevent identity fraud?
It is a common misconception that open access to public records perpetuates theft of identity. The reality is that public records can be your best protection against this type of criminal activity.

Information and data compiled by private companies from public records, including Social Security numbers, addresses, dates of birth and phone numbers, are used every day to help combat identity theft. Social Security numbers have proven to be the most reliable tool in verifying an individual’s identity. Certain public and court records contain this vital information, and provide a reliable source for data matching, which helps prevent the rapid increase in identity fraud victims. Further, commercial databases compiled using public records for identity authentication are routinely used online and offline to detect credit card application fraud, and insurance application and claims fraud.

The use of public records improves the speed and accuracy of check acceptances, combats identity theft, and reduces check fraud, which has the combined effect of lowering costs for all consumers.

Efforts to restrict the collection and use of personal information contained in public records, though well intended, actually hinder efforts to prevent identity theft by depriving businesses, government and law enforcement officials of valuable data that is used to authenticate identities and protect the public at-large.