Personal data a public records headache

State officials pulled thousands of images off a Web site this week because they might contain sensitive identification information.

Montrose County Clerk and Recorder Fran Long similarly decided last week to take down all scanned documents from a Montrose County Web site because of the possibility that they might contain identifiers, such as Social Security numbers.

Documents remain on the Mesa County Web site, however, and Clerk and Recorder Janice Rich said the costs of removing those documents is unknown, but would involve millions of images.

One thing does seem certain, Rich said. County officials cannot change or redact any government documents that might contain Social Security numbers.

“We cannot touch them,” Long said. “We’re between a rock and a hard place.”

“We have previously asked title companies, banks, mortgage companies and other repeat customers to no longer put” Social Security numbers on documents that will be recorded as public record, Rich said.

Colorado Attorney General John Suthers this week asked recorders to remove documents that contain identifiers, but doing so isn’t as simple as pulling a single type of document.

Federal tax liens, financing statements, loan papers and other documents can contain Social Security numbers, but individuals often provide them where they’re unnecessary, Long said.

Montrose County began putting documents online a year ago and as time went on found instances in which identifiers were posted on the Web, Long said.

The only answer, she said, was to “pull the entire batch.”

That means that lenders who might wish to examine title documents, liens and other papers will have to go to the courthouse to find them instead of simply pointing and clicking, she said.

But it doesn’t mean that individuals have more protections, she said.

“We do have an open records law,” which means the same documents still are available for public inspections, Long said.

Officials with the Colorado Secretary of State’s Office pulled about 90,000 documents from its Web site on Monday after learning that some of the documents contained identifying information.

Officials said that anyone who finds personal information on the secretary of state Web site should contact the Business Division at 303-894-2200.


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