Bill could remove SSNs from records

Published 11:59 pm Wednesday, February 11, 2009

A bill currently under consideration by the state legislature would remove Social Security numbers and birthdates from state probate records, and it is a bill that Covington County Probate Judge Ben Bowden favors.

“I am in favor of anything that would protect the identity of our citizens,” Bowden said.

Information like Social Security numbers and birthdates is listed on public records held at the state’s county probate offices. However, as more of that information is being transferred to the Internet, questions have arisen about the safety of including such information in a place where anyone could easily access it.

The bill is enumerated as S.B. 11 and is sponsored by Sen. Kim Benefield, D-Woodland. It was originally scheduled to be discussed in the Senate Judiciary Committee Wednesday, but did not come up for discussion.

“I’m for this bill and want to work with my fellow probate judges across the state to develop some means to protect this kind of information,” Bowden said.

Bowden said the bill would remove SSNs and similar information from probate records in the future, both hard copy and online archives. He added that there are ways to mask the information in the existing digital archives, but doing the same for the bound printed public record may prove to be difficult.

“The problem arises will all of our records that are still in hard copy,” he said. “No one yet has told me what the solution would be for the thousands of records that are in bound, hard copy format. I’m waiting to hear what the solution may be there, and, as always, cost is foremost on my mind.”

Bowden said the county probate office has most of its printed public record already in a digital format, although those documents can only be observed from a terminal at the probate office. He added that there are some real property records that can be viewed on the World Wide Web, although viewers need a special password to access those documents.

“We want to try and move a lot of our records to the Web in the near future,” Bowden said. “Right now, all we have is some limited real property information. The lawyers in town can do some of their work online, although to be really thorough they’d probably still have to come down to our office and check some things.”

Bowden said the probate office will eventually have nearly all of its public record available online.

“I envision all of it, except for the protected records like adoptions, being online at some point,” Bowden said. “But we’re talking about something that will be expensive and will require some long-range planning. Right now we have a few services available; for example, you can renew your car tags online. We hope to eventually move more services and records online as well.”