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Court website publishes social security numbers

Just one example of a social security number published on website
Just one example of a social security number published on website
Montgomery County Clerk of Courts

The public access website for the Montgomery County Clerk of Courts publishes social security numbers, birth dates and addresses of people involved in cases. This is not something isolated to Montgomery County, as numerous lawsuits have been filed across the country for similar Privacy Act violations.

Armed with this information, an identity thief can cause havoc for someone. This is all the information someone needs to open credit accounts, including revolving credit and credit cards. Most identity theft cases are not discovered for several months after the fact and thousands of dollars stolen. Damage to credit reports can also take months and some derogatory information is never removed.

In 2007, a hacker used public information from the Franklin County Municipal Court website to steal the identity and credit of many people.

In 2006, the Attorney General of Ohio determined publishing the social security numbers of citizens is a violation of federal law.

The law is not exactly clear on this issue around the country. In 2010, a West Virginia federal appeals court ruled that government agencies could publish social security numbers on websites. This case was the result of a lawsuit filed by a newspaper who demanded government agencies publish social security numbers without redaction.

In a short search of the Montgomery County Clerk of Courts website on March 6, 2014, three cases were found where the social security numbers are available on their website. The examples listed in this article were redacted by this reporter and were not redacted on the website. An attempt was made to reach someone in the clerks office, but no one wanted to speak about this issue.

Privacy rights have long been waged against the right of the public to monitor the activity of their government agencies. Everything that a government agency does is deemed public record, with limited exceptions. The protection of a persons identity has been ruled more important than a public need for an open government.