WRAL Investigates

Official: Argument against redacting Social Security numbers 'hogwash'

Posted February 25, 2010

WRAL Investigates

— Federal officials contend that removing Social Security numbers from old bankruptcy filings would be too difficult to undertake, but a Johnston County official said he doesn't buy that argument.

Federal bankruptcies filed before December 2007 include personal information that can be accessed online, making the people in those cases vulnerable to identity theft.

Social Security Filers can ask courts to seal bankruptcy cases

“It’s scary that the federal government allows this to stay on record," said Nan Flake, who filed for bankruptcy 10 years ago after Hurricane Floyd destroyed her Pitt County business.

“They should take (the Social Security numbers) off, do away with them. They're smart enough to have a program to wipe it right out,” Flake said.

Republican 6th District Congressman Howard Coble said there are logistical challenges to opening up thousands of old files to redact Social Security numbers and other personal information.

"I can see how people would be very uneasy if their Social Security numbers were made public," Coble said. "In order to make it retroactive, it's going to have to be examined, because it will be very costly, very time-consuming, but it would be offering protection."

Raleigh bankruptcy attorney David Warren agrees that going through years of court filings would pose a challenge.

"I think it's a significant burden to have to be done," Warren said. "It is not in the ordinary course of business for the court, which is already overburdened, to undertake (this)."

Johnston County Register of Deeds Craig Olive vehemently disagrees, saying Social Security numbers can be removed from the online records of old bankruptcy filings.

"They spend millions of dollars for pork barrel, and they can't spend any money on any type of technology to cover up Social Security numbers? That's hogwash," Olive said.

Johnston County spent $36,000 on software that scanned 6 million public documents, and Olive's staff redacted personal information on 29,000 pages within a month.

Coble said he would contact people with the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts to determine an appropriate course of action.

Meanwhile, Warren said, people can write a letter to the court to petition that their files be individually sealed or redacted. Filers need to include their full name, date of birth, bankruptcy case number and date it was filed, he said, and they also should include a self-addressed, stamped envelope for a reply from the court.

"The courts are open to the public, and these people who are in there have a right to have their information protected," he said.

The bankruptcy courts in the Triangle area can be reached at the following addresses:

Raleigh Division: 300 Fayetteville St., 2nd Floor, Raleigh, NC 27601-1799

Wilson Division: 1760-A Parkwood Blvd., Wilson, NC 27893-3564


This story is closed for comments.

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  • JustOneGodLessThanU Feb 26, 2010

    It would only be easy to remove the SSN from the database, IF the data fields are discrete.

    If we're dealing with scanned images of documents with imbedded SSNs in multiple places...no way would that be easy or cheap. It would probably best be handled manually at that point.

  • 2kidz1hub Feb 26, 2010

    "You must be registered with the Federal Bankruptcy Court and pay a Pacer system in order access this information."

    This is a TRUE statement. Once again WRAL tries to create a panic from the public. You must subscribe to PACER and pay a monthly fee in order to access the records.

    From the PACER site--"A login and password, issued by the PACER Service Center, is required for access to PACER. If you do not already have a PACER account, you may register on-line at this web site."

  • SWEET-N-SOUR Feb 26, 2010

    First of all Bankruptcy is public record , but only the fact a person filed and maybe a case number, but having access to the actual documents is not as easy as made to believe. You must be registered with the Federal Bankruptcy Court and pay a Pacer system in order access this information.

  • ParadoxInLife Feb 26, 2010

    Relic...I believe the issue is these are scanned whole documents (think pdf), not a field in a DB. Therefore all the documents would have to be redacted one at a time.

  • gov watchdog Feb 26, 2010

    This is why I am opposed to the government having everybody's health records on line. Government employees get paid regardless of how well they do (or don't do) their jobs.

  • rroadrunner99 Feb 26, 2010

    When they have a few lawsuit's for stolen identity, and ruined credit, I bet they will find a way in the blink of an eye to fix this problem. I agree if they want to leave these SSN's online...let's put ALL Federal employee's SSN's online that say's it's too expensive to be done. I'd bet it'll get cheap very fast then.

  • OSX Feb 25, 2010

    This is the same stupidity that makes people break and makes them feel like there is nothing else they can to but fly a plane into a building. Sound familiar "texas".

  • 6079 SMITH W Feb 25, 2010

    Maybe we should just leave the SS numbers alone so they will be more readily available to all those don't have one...it would save them from paying someone else to get one.

  • Moto69 Feb 25, 2010

    All they have to do is turn the server off. Or put the IP address of the server in their firewall to keep the ENTIRE WORLD from getting to the data. Just because it's public info doesn't mean it has to be on the internet. If someone wants to look at a record then let them walk their happy rear downtown to look it up.

  • time4real Feb 25, 2010

    lawsuit, now there's an idea I like! let's work on that Ken Harden!