Local News

Senate committee reaches compromise on ID theft bill

Posted May 12, 2009 5:44 a.m. EDT
Updated May 12, 2009 6:26 p.m. EDT

— A state Senate judiciary committee reached a compromise Tuesday on proposed legislation to help protect personal information, such as Social Security, bank account and driver's license numbers, from being made public electronically.



Under the negotiation, redacting any information that could potentially lead to identity theft would be voluntary until July 1, 2011, so counties have time to come up with a system to do so.

After July 1, 2011, it would become mandatory for the offices to redact the information.

The full Senate could vote on the bill as early as this week.

The North Carolina Identity Theft Protection Act of 2005 stopped banks from putting personal numbers on housing documents, but it does not require government agencies to redact that information from public documents filed before the law went into effect.

Under current law, government agencies can remove the information only as individuals request it.

Although there is support for legislation, those close to the issue have expressed concerns about the costs associated with additional manpower and software needed to remove the information.

Kimberly Hargove, register of deeds in Harnett County and the legislative co-chairwoman for the North Carolina Association of Register of Deeds, said each county would have to hire a vendor to run the redaction software.

Quotes range from $300,000 to $1.5 million per county, she said. Only about a quarter of North Carolina's counties could afford to redact information voluntarily, she said..

Laura Riddick, register of deeds in Wake County, said she supports the effort but believes the state needs to help fund it.

It would cost $2 million to redact personal information from the 22.7 million documents in Wake County, she said. Because the software has a margin of error, she said, there would also need to be a dedicated staff to support the effort.

"This is an unfunded mandate in a time of budget cuts," Riddick said.

Durham County's register of deeds, Willie Covington, said he prefers the system as it is and that he would not know how he would begin to start going through records.

"I think it's a good idea to take baby steps by 2011," said Johnston County Register of Deeds Craig Olive. "We can prioritize our budgets all across the state.

As many as 20,000 documents contain personal information in Johnston County, he said. The price for him to redact the information, he said, is about $46,000.

The negotiation combines two bills that were previously before the committee for consideration.

Senate Bill 1017 would have required registers of deeds to use optical character recognition technology or other reasonably available technology to remove the information.

Senate Bill 900 would have made it voluntary for counties to remove the information. The same information would still exist on hard copies of the public documents to which anyone has access.