Word about RECAP continues to spread through the legal profession. The latest issue of Minnesota Lawyer covers the case of a Minneapolis lawyer who was sanctioned for inadvertently including the Social Security numbers and dates of birth of dozens of individuals in court documents, when the rules of civil procedure mandate that only the last four digits of a Social Security number and the year of birth be disclosed in documents filed with the court.
The article then mentions RECAP as one reason for attorneys to be careful about redaction when they’re filing court documents:
Friedemann said that concern over the publication of sensitive information has been elevated by recent Web programs like RECAP, which has made it easier to access public court filings.
RECAP automatically uploads all PACER documents a user is viewing onto an archive maintained by the non-profit group Internet Archive. When the next RECAP user attempts to view a PACER document that has already been archived, RECAP automatically uploads the copy to prevent that user from paying for those materials. The system allows users of PACER to slowly create a secondary archive of these public documents that can be accessed for free.
Friedemann explained that prior to programs like RECAP mistakes in documents published on PACER could be corrected. “Now they can’t be taken back,” she said.
We’d like to make a couple of important clarifications. First, RECAP does scan documents for Social Security numbers before uploading them, so it’s unlikely that the document in question would have appeared on the Internet Archive even if a RECAP user had downloaded it. Second, it is possible to “take back” documents that have been uploaded to the archive. If you spot a document in our archive that shouldn’t be there, please let us know so we can take care of the problem.
With that said, we agree with the general point of the article. We do our best to suppress documents with sensitive information in them, but we have limited manpower and can only do so much with automated methods. So attorneys are the first and most important line of defense for their clients’ privacy. We urge attorneys to take seriously their obligation to redact documents before submitting them to the courts. And we applaud the judiciary for stepping up enforcement of its redaction rules.