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This law which was proposed was widely opposed by private investigators who run court searches for their clients every day. This proposed fee increase would have put an increased burden on investigators and their clients. We are happy to report today that the legislation has been defeated! See below article from Courthouse News Service:
Wednesday, June 12, 2013
California Legislature Kills $10 Fee for Search of Public Court Records
|By MARIA DINZEO|
SAN FRANCISCO (CN) – A trailer bill that would have severely limited press and public access to court documents has died in the California Legislature, after widespread editorial condemnation from the state’s newspapers. The defeated proposal was put forward by the Administrative Office of the Courts and would have resulted in a charge of $10 per file to look at court records.
While court administrators pushed the fee as a way to raise revenue, freedom of information advocates said the proposal would in practice wall off the public record. The political and editorial fallout resulted in a self-inflicted wound for court bureaucrats, with legislators blasting the fee and those that proposed it.
“Most agreed that it would be horrible public policy,” said Jim Ewert, General Counsel for the California Newspaper Publishers Association, a group that lobbied fiercely against the proposal. The fee was part of a trailer bill, a form of legislation that trails in the wake of the budget.
During an early hearing on the trailer bill, Bob Blumenfield, chair of the Assembly Budget Committee, lectured the bureaucrats on their fiscal conduct.
‘While the state grappled with the budget crisis, court administrators have sometimes acted fiscally irresponsible even though fiscal responsibility was the mantra of the day,” said Blumenfield.
The search fee took a few twists and turns as it was caught up in the deal-making that comes with California’s budget.
Neither the Senate nor the Assembly had shown support for the search fee, Ewert pointed out, but very late in the process the Senate inserted a vague “press exemption” into the proposal. But no specific language defined the exemption, how it would be applied nor who was entitled to invoke the exemption.
A Senate budget subcommittee then approved the fee with a press exemption. While the fee failed in the Assembly’s budget committee.
On Monday evening, a joint budget conference committee representing both chambers voted to accept the Assembly version of the bill, which meant the fee proposal, after weeks of wrangling and criticism, was dead.
“That’s one of the great mysteries,” said Ewert of how the exemption came to be inserted into the trailer bill. “All I can speculate is that the Assembly wanted to protect every person’s ability to obtain this information very important information and not just the press,” said Ewert.
The defeat of the fee followed a statewide blast from newspaper editorial pages
The Monterey County Herald , among many, pointed out the importance of access to court files.
“A $10 fee would be devastating to newspapers and other news operations, especially relatively small ones such as The Herald. Newspapers this size review dozens of new court files each month in search of potential stories — many of them about important public business.”
The opposition came not only from newspapers but from groups that look up historical records, such as the Sonoma County Historical Society.
“I write to oppose the proposed $10 fee to search California court records,” wrote Jeremy Nichols, president of the historical society, in a letter to Senator Noreen Evans. “Our 500+ members cannot afford to pay $10 for every court record they see for their volunteer work or personal research.”
Open government advocates such as the Society of Professional Jounalists and Californians Aware also criticized the search fee. Cal Aware’s Terry Francke referred to it as “fee-jacking.”
In the Legislature, the fee landed in a minefield of criticism.
In his extraordinary lecture to court officials, budget committee chair Blumenfield referred to the court administrative office’s history of wasteful spending.
“We’ve seen a failed computer system with cost overruns of nearly $500 million wasted,” Blumenfield told the officials. “In the process, the courts took millions from trial courts which actually sacrificed access to justice to keep the failed computer project running.”
He also referred to another administrative office financial controversy that is in the making. “This year the court system will likely enter an agreement to spend $100 million more than we should to build a new courthouse in Long Beach.”
“For these reasons,” he concluded, “the courts have had a bumpy road in the Legislature.”
The fee idea also came as one in a series of policies and initiatives by the administrative office that have been criticized for shielding the office from transparency.
The administrative office has, for example, proposed rules that would delay access to court records until they have been officially accepted, a process that can take weeks and destroys the news interest in a new court filing.
The office has also denied information requests by an association of judges that says the administrative office is “transparent as the Iron Curtain.”
“Over the last year, efforts to obtain public records from the AOC have been routinely ignored, denied, delayed,” said the Alliance of California Judges. The administrative office’s reaction to requests for information, said the Alliance, “is an assault on the basic notion of open government that as Americans we expect of those who are funded by public dollars.”
Judges in the Alliance criticized the search fee as a “ham-handed” idea that was “apparently created in non-public meetings by unidentified AOC staff and others.”
Legislators evidently heard those complaints.
As part of the budget, they are telling the Judicial Council to conduct all of its business in open, public meetings. The push to open up those meetings applies directly to the way the search fee was generated, through a series of council committees closed to the public.
Specifically, the legislation includes a provision saying that no later than October 1st, the Judicial Council “shall adopt a rule regarding open meeting requirements.” The rule applies to “any committee, subcomittee, advisory group, task force or similar multi-member body that reviews issues and reports to the Judicial Council.”
It also requires telephonic access to anyone who requests it and requires public notice.
Ewert with the newspaper association said the death of the search fee is a good sign for press access, in a bleak time when the national administration is pursuing the records of journalists.
“I think it bodes well for press access,” said Ewert. “Especially in light of recent events with respect to the Associated Press and the federal Department of Justice going after phone records. It’s renewed a focus on the trust the public has in the press to provide accurate and truthful information about government activities. Now with this decision the press will be able to do that with respect to the courts.”
In a recent article published by sfaxme.com, author Ashleigh Brown discusses important discoveries in data breaches caused by the use of emailed personal data. The article noted that since the August 2009 Breach Notification Rule came into existence it has been clear to everyone just how frequently healthcare and patient data is compromised across the nation. That rule requires that HIPAA-covered organizations must notify patients or their next of kin of any security breaches involving 500 patients or more, within 5-60 days after the discovery of the breach – varies based on the state the breach occurred.
One such breach which recently occurred at the Regional Medical Center in Memphis, Tennessee was discussed in the article. In that instance, three unsecured emails containing names, account numbers, phone numbers, physical therapy data, dates of birth and even social security numbers for almost 1200 patients were sent in Autumn 2012.
However, the breach was not discovered until March 2013, and whilst there is no reason to suspect that the data was accessed by anyone outside of the Medical Center, the fact remains that there was a severe breach of security that could have resulted in a huge amount of damage. Any innocent mistake such as this can easily lead to serious consequences. Safeguards need to be in place to prevent this kind of data breach from happening.
Another example of where patient confidentiality had been compromised was in December 2012 and February 2013, at Hope Hospice in Texas. A member of staff emailed a report of patient referrals and admissions to themselves on two separate occasions without any form of security. 818 patients were affected by this breach, and their names, insurance information, referral information, clinical chart data, county and date of discharge were all compromised. Regardless of the intention of the staff member or the result of the breach, using email for sensitive, personal, private data is simply not acceptable.
Since August 2009, HHS data shows that 214,000 individuals have had their data reported compromised in Texas, and 1.2 million in Tennessee, that is almost 1/5 of the entire population of the state of Tennessee! Nationwide there have been 21 million individual patients who have had their data reported as compromised by their healthcare providers. Because the Breach Notification Rule does not require that breaches involving less than 500 patients be reported, some estimate that the actual number of patients affected across the US may actually be closer to 40-45 million.
Clearly the current systems are failing, and something needs to be done to change the status quo.
Ms. Brown goes on to discuss the following: “We believe this is where we come in. SecureCare is dedicated to protecting sensitive information. We blend innovative ideas and cloud technology to exceed HIPAA regulations. All our team members are HIPAA trained. By leveraging the highest levels of security and establishing new ways to securely exchange documents, users have easy to use, high performance solutions that remove the temptation to send data by unsecured channels. Plus, they get a full document audit trail. By working together, we can ensure that organizations avoid the severe penalties resulting from these breaches and associated damaging affects.”
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It is important to understand how easily data can be breached and to safeguard transactions which occur electronically (such as email) which contain sensitive information. It is the responsibility of the company or individual transmitting the email to take due care in protecting the information contained therein. -KIS
Smartphone safety tips you need to know. Our article published in the January 2013 edition of California Investigator is posted below.
Some smartphones can cost an upward of $500 and yet are quite an easy little item to steal. The information that you keep on your device can be worth more than money. Therefore, it is increasingly important for people to educate themselves on the safe use of smartphones and how to secure their personal data kept therein.
For private investigators, smartphones may be their primary and most valued business tool. A smartphone will allow the investigator to make calls, check email, use GPS and maps, locate a business or office, record audio statements, and obtain photographs or video documentation and research information using the Internet. There are numerous applications, “Apps,” which can be downloaded onto the smartphone that help make an investigator’s device even more of a powerful professional tool. Just as investigators access confidential and restricted information and databases on their laptops, they are increasingly going to their smartphone as a research device while in the field. Therefore, it is essential those private investigators, or anyone with a smartphone, take measures to safeguard their device.
$30 Billion worth of smartphones are lost each year in the United States alone –Intuit 2012
Approximately 113 cell phones are lost or stolen every minute in the United States –Plateau 2012
$7 Million worth of smartphones are lost daily –Plateau 2012
1 in 4 Americans will lose their cell phone each year –Intuit 2012
1 in 5 school aged children have had their mobile phone stolen–Plateau 2012
Active Measures You can Take to Protect Your Smartphone:
Antivirus Programs & Backup:
What to do if your smartphone has been stolen:
The author is independent of any specific company, program or software that would benefit from the promotion of this information. This article is meant solely as an informational piece to help educate others on how to protect themselves and their companies. Any recommendations and tips should not be construed as legal or professional advice. Should you have any specific questions or concerns regarding your information security contact a trained IT professional.
The author is a licensed professional investigator in California who specializes in customized litigation support and complex investigations. Cory has been sought out for her expertise in complex litigation investigations, has been interviewed on the topic of database research and educates on the importance of information security. Learn more about her company, Keystone Investigative Services, Inc. at www.Keystoneis.com.