Throughout the U.S. in recent years, a widespread problem that has emerged involving unauthorized access and usage of data such as credit card numbers, account information, and social security numbers. Many individuals have been victims of “identity theft” where the criminal may create credit accounts under another person’s identity. Civil court case filings may have documents containing data that parties would not want to be accessible.
The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure (FRCP) were created and are maintained to provide a framework for how civil actions are conducted in federal court. Over the years, the FRCP has been amended and has had rules added or repealed based on rulings by the U.S. Supreme Court, or through congressional legislation.
The FRCP Rule 5.2 provides privacy protection for court filings, through redaction. Redaction is a process of editing, obscuring, or censoring data for publication. Unless a court specifically rules to the contrary, the following information is restricted as follows:
- The Social Security number or tax identification number of a party will only have the last four digits listed;
- The birthdate of a party is restricted to only be listed by the year, with day and month excluded;
- A minor who is referenced in a document will be listed by only their initials, with complete name excluded; and
- Financial account numbers only include the last four digits (ie. xxx-1234).
The requirements for redaction may not apply in the following circumstances:
- When an account number pertains to a property subject to forfeiture;
- For records in an administrative or agency matter;
- In the official record of proceedings in state court;
- In records for a court or tribunal that was not originally subject to redaction; or
- Rare instances when applied to Rule 5.2(c) or (d) and in pro se filings in 28 U.S.C. §§ 2241, 2254, or 2255.
Restrictions apply for remote entry (access) to files in an electronic format amid appeals for Social Security matters and cases involving immigration. Unless a court determines to the contrary, actions relating to the Social Security Act, or relating to benefits or the detention of immigrants, use the following rules:
- Parties to the case and their attorneys may remotely access files and administrative records
- All others with access to the electronic records may only view:
- Court dockets
- Orders, opinions, and judgments by the court, but nothing beyond, including administrative records
Certain documents which are filed under seal may be done without reaction; however, courts may later unseal it or use a redacted version for public records. Also, a filing that is redacted may be filed in conjunction with a non-redacted version under seal. Filings that are redacted may be filed with a list that references the information of each redacted item contained. Those who file documents without redaction that are not under seal are waiving their Rule 5.2 protections.