- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 1, 2003

RICHMOND Yesterday morning, before the House of Delegates convened, a stranger delivered a surprise package to Delegate Harry R. Purkey an assortment of public documents all containing family members' signatures and Social Security numbers.
"I am going to write my clerk and tell him if he does not take this information off the Internet, I am going to sue him," Mr. Purkey, Virginia Beach Republican, told the members of the House hours later as he expressed outrage over the potential for identity theft.
The majority of members agreed with Mr. Purkey, and gave preliminary approval to a measure that would bar local governments from posting sensitive information, such as birth dates, mother's maiden names and Social Security numbers all of which the stranger gave to Mr. Purkey on public records posted on the Internet.
If it passes the House on the formal roll call vote today, as expected, it will be sent to the Senate for consideration.
Under Virginia law, county clerks of courts are required to post all public documents online if they wish to collect their portion of the technology trust fund.
"This is going to create a high-cost factor and a duplicity in the system," said Jack Kennedy, Wise County clerk of court, who is opposed to the measure.
Wise County charges an annual subscription rate for access to the records, which allows administrators to monitor usage, and cuts down on the potential for identity theft.
"We don't know of any cases of an identity being stolen through court records," said Delegate Jeannemarie Devolities, Fairfax Republican.
For the past year, Mrs. Devolites has chaired a joint legislative panel studying identity theft. She advocated sending the bill back to committee for further consideration.
Other opponents of the bill said the measure would hinder the ability of the FBI and other criminal investigators to find information regarding cases in a timely manner.
But B.J. Ostegran, the stranger who delivered the personal information to Mr. Purkey, is not swayed.
"If the FBI is going to be checking to see who owns a home, how did they do it five years ago? What did they do before the World Wide Web?" asked Mrs. Ostegran, a Hanover County privacy rights activist.
The signatures and other personal information still would be available to the public on the original documents on file at the courthouse, ensuring the legality of the documents.
Mr. Purkey said he was not opposed to that.
"They'd have to get off their round bottoms to see the information and the round-bottom crowd is pretty … lazy," he said.

Sen. Richard L. Saslaw, who came under fire from fellow Democrats for voting to oust the first black woman to be a circuit court judge in Virginia, said yesterday that this session will likely be his last as Senate minority leader.
"I will seek re-election in November," Mr. Saslaw, Fairfax County Democrat, said in a news release. "However, it is doubtful that I will seek the leadership position."
Mr. Saslaw's announcement followed a week of criticism from black lawmakers and other colleagues over his vote against Newport News Circuit Judge Verbena M. Askew.
Mr. Saslaw and Sen. Janet Howell, Fairfax Democrat, were the only Democrats to join Republicans in voting against Judge Askew.
Mr. Saslaw said Judge Askew's defeat played a minor part in his decision to step down as the Democratic leader. He had objected to the judge's response to a sexual harassment complaint against her.
Several Democratic senators said Mr. Saslaw had irreparably damaged his standing in the party caucus.
This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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