The new rules, intended to prevent identity theft, were to take effect June 10 and would have banned the posting of court pleadings on the Internet. The rules also would have required that Social Security numbers, birth dates and addresses be excluded from public court documents.
The Supreme Court, in a brief statement from the office of Chief Justice James R. Winchester, said it was pulling the order to allow time for further study and consideration of the issue.
Last week, Winchester told The Associated Press that the court would consider creating a task force to hash out concerns of the public, but made no mention of that in Tuesday’s statement.
“The Supreme Court of Oklahoma is very aware of privacy and identity theft concerns of individuals related to the personal data that may appear on the court’s Web site,” the court’s statement read.
“We are cognizant that many businesses and individuals rely on the information court clerks have placed on our Web site. Personal privacy balanced with reliable public information is critical for a free society.
“Due to the very important issues for all concerned, the Supreme Court is hereby withdrawing its privacy and public access order ... handed down March 11, 2008, to give the issue further study and consideration,” the statement concluded.
Free-speech advocates praised the court’s decision to reverse course.
“We’re happy that they withdrew the order,” said Mark Thomas, executive vice president of the Oklahoma Press Association. “A broad, sweeping closure of massive public records is not the answer to identity theft problems.”
“We’ve always been sensitive to identity theft and will gladly serve on any task force to help limit those risks, but the overwhelming use of these records by all citizens of Oklahoma will be restored by the withdrawal of these rules.”
He said the public “is concerned about their Social Security numbers and we should find a specific way to answer that issue, but there are so many positive uses of other information in court documents that it really needs to available to the public.”
Joey Senat, past President of FOI Oklahoma and a journalism professor at Oklahoma State University, said the latest order is “good news for the taxpayers of Oklahoma. It shows that the court realizes that it had not really thought through the issue and had not listened to the people.
“I welcome further discussion on this. That is what should have happened in the first place.”
Some of the information that would have been deleted under the original court order is routinely available in other documents, such as voter records and police reports.
Companies that perform background checks had said they would have a hard time providing reliable information if they couldn’t narrow down records by birth dates.
Lawyers complained it would be harder and more expensive to do their jobs if they had to send messengers out to get records now available on the Internet.
Some court clerks said the restrictions were too far reaching and that it was wrong to put roadblocks up to information that has been in the public record.
Law enforcement officers said the rules could lead to identity mistakes and the potential for the arrest of the wrong person.
Some people even complained the new rules would make it harder for them to check the background of potential dating partners.
The vote was 5-3 on the order closing the court information earlier in the month.
Justice Steven Taylor dissented, and Justice Yvonne Kauger was joined by Justice James Edmondson in a separate opinion questioning the “instantaneous restriction” of public access to documents online.
Kauger said the court was “taking a giant, 30-year leap backward to a time when the personal computer was nonexistent” and said the public is paying for access to a system made inaccessible by the order.