New court procedures raise privacy concerns for families, minors - WKRN News 2

New court procedures raise privacy concerns for families, minors

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. -

A change in Tennessee court proceedings could have a big impact on the privacy of families and juveniles.

Starting this spring, the Tennessee Supreme Court will make digital audio recordings of all oral arguments of cases on appeal available on the Internet.

There's no exception for juveniles or families going through sensitive divorce proceedings, which is a big enough issue that numerous attorneys are voicing their concern.

One of those attorneys is Helen Rogers, who has worked in family law for over 30 years and has dealt with hundreds of cases involving sensitive and potentially embarrassing information.

"In a divorce case you might have a 14 or 15 year old that has become pregnant or is sexually active, or using drugs, or perhaps was raped," said Rogers. "You would not want that child's friends, with a couple of clicks, to click into her parent's divorce case and find out really personal family things."

Rogers is worried about what easy access to sensitive information like this on the Internet would do to a family's privacy.

"I think the important thing about it is things have such a long life on the Internet," Rogers told Nashville's News 2. "Once they're out there, would the oral argument be patched by somebody over into YouTube if somebody thought it was funny or humorous, regardless of what impact it might have on that family?"

Attorneys' arguments in appeals court are recorded right now, but anyone who wants a copy of them has to go to the clerk's office in person and pay $20.

Judge Frank Clement with the Tennessee Court of Appeals also has concerns.

He wrote a three page letter to the Tennessee Supreme Court, which said in part, "I am unable to conclude that the benefits, if any, would outweigh even one unintended but tragic consequence."

Judge Clement added, "Although there are other reasonable options that may be considered, excluding domestic cases involving minor children from the program is the most obvious option."

The Tennessee Supreme Court told Nashville's News 2, "Our intent in making the audio files available online is to continue to promote the transparency and openness of the courts. The proceedings are public and the audio files are available today at the clerks' offices. This change will allow us to better utilize technology to give the public access to the court. We do recognize a concern for possible misuse of the audio files and are developing measures to mitigate possible misuse of the proposed system."

The Tennessee Supreme Court also said they are working on a system to catalogue all complaints and have offered the intermediate courts the opportunity to provide advance notice of the policy to lawyers making arguments involving particularly sensitive issues.

They are also finalizing their exact procedures and will review the program after a one-year trial period.

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