Palm Beach Co. Clerk's Office to go fully online

Posted at 7:13 PM, Dec 14, 2015
and last updated 2015-12-14 19:13:18-05

Starting next year in Palm Beach County, you will be able to get online records, including traffic tickets, arrest reports and divorce records, at the click of a button. Even better, it will all be free.

It's part of the state's new effort to make court records more easily available to you.

"We're like a library," said Sharon Bock, the Palm Beach County Clerk & Comptroller.

Step into the courthouse and you'll be in Palm Beach County's vault of sensitive information.

Florida law allows much of it to be available to anyone who asks for it.

Soon records kept at the courthouse, from as far back as 2008, will be put online. Older documents will also be available.

From October last year to September 2015, the clerk's office processed 4,409,000 documents.

"[It will be] free and accessible, sitting right at your home computer," explained Bock.

Just log on, submit a request and when it's ready, it will be posted on a web page where almost anyone can view it. It's all part of a new system called eCaseView.

"Making the accessibility of the public record, the peoples records, available to anybody who has a computer system," said Bock.

But two months ago, online records left leaders from West Palm Beach red-faced.

The city's spokesman claims he didn't realize thousands of emails he posted on the public website, in response to a records response from NewsChannel 5, contained police secrets, including names of confidential informants, undercover agents and upcoming police stings. Everyone could see.

"Are you concerned that what happened in the city could happen here?" NewsChannel5 reporter Gabrielle Sarann, asked Bock. "There could always be a breach," she replied.

The records her office will soon make available online often contain people's personal information.

"Would somebody who has access to that information sell it?" said Bock. "Would you seek Social Security numbers, would you sell [confidential] bank information? Would you sell it? That is something we do look at and that's why we have a lot of checks and balances."

The clerk says special software will flag private information like bank account and Social Security numbers. And not one, but two people will manually check to make sure forbidden information doesn't go public. Those checks and balances, she says, aren't limited to just the documents.

"Nobody comes into our office without having a background check, without having an FBI check," explained Bock. "We do fingerprinting."

But even with safeguards, civil rights attorney James Green fears problems.

"I see it as an example of the potential danger of dealing with digital public records," said Green. "Now that we're going from hard copy into digital public records access, it's much easier for state and local officials to make bigger mistakes through the click of a button."

Bock says she will do everything she can to keep the county's library of information safe. "I believe that we are doing everything that is humanly possible to be able to protect the people from Palm Beach County," said Bock.

The clerk also pointed out that when it comes to personal information, a potential cyber attack is always a concern. She says that's a threat her people are constantly monitoring.

The new online system is expected to launch next year. When it goes live, you'll also be able to access the system using a smartphone.