- The Washington Times - Friday, October 4, 2002

A Virginia Republican lawmaker is encouraging the state chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union to challenge a 1998 law requiring jurisdictions to post records including Social Security numbers on the Internet.

"I never thought I would see the day when I would agree with the ACLU. I would welcome them to challenge this in court so I know what direction to go in with this situation," said Delegate Jeannemarie Devolites, Fairfax Republican and chairman of the Joint Committee on Electronic Court Records.

The committee is composed of lawmakers, clerks of courts and other government officials. It is scheduled to meet in Richmond this month to discuss the display of information on land records and marriage licenses on county Web sites.

The committee aims to devise a legislative solution to propose when the General Assembly reconvenes in Richmond in January.

The Washington Times reported yesterday that Virginia ACLU officials were telling state and local officials to stop posting Social Security numbers on the Internet.

"We will continue to push the General Assembly to take some action, but if all else fails, we will take a close look at whether the issue can be litigated," Kent Willis, executive director of the Virginia ACLU, told The Times on Wednesday.

The ACLU is targeting King George County, where Clerk of the Court Vic Mason has posted residents' Social Security numbers and signatures on the county Web site (www.king-george.va.us). The sensitive information appears under the land records section and was posted to update all of the county's files electronically.

A 1998 Virginia law mandates that clerks of court charge a $3 fee when court records which often include Social Security numbers are filed so the records can be available via "remote access." The money is then placed in a technology trust fund, which is disbursed to the jurisdictions.

Mr. Mason, who has had several conversations with Mrs. Devolites and other lawmakers about the postings, has defended his actions, citing the 1998 law.

"In order to get the [technology trust fund] money, we have to promote remote access," Mr. Mason said.

Mrs. Devolites said her committee is going to work with Mr. Mason and other clerks of courts to change the process.

"People are attacking him as if it were his idea. It's not," she said. "We need to see if the remote access needs to be a requirement, and we need to review what exactly should be incorporated in these documents to begin with."

A compromise being considered includes removing the Social Security numbers from public documents entirely. Another suggested solution is including the numbers only as part of an attachment not connected to the public document.

Whatever solution is used, however, Mr. Mason said he does not have the funding to remove what is already on the Web.

"I understand the concerns about the Social Security numbers, and if the funding was available to rescan all the documents, I would," he said.

"I just don't have the resources to go in there and change everything."

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