Monday, April 28, 2014

Identify Theft Meets eFiling: Protecting Sensitive Data in Pleadings

What’s a lawyer to do?

Texas statutes require that all pleading include certain identifying information for named parties: full legal names, portions of social security numbers, and portions of drivers’ license numbers, while family law matters include dates of birth, dates of marriage, maiden names, home addresses, vehicle identification numbers, or even bank names and partial account numbers in orders related to the parties’ property.

Obviously, that type of “sensitive data” in a publicly available record could lead to identity theft by the unscrupulous. And most pleadings are publicly available documents.

In an effort to address this problem, the Texas Supreme Court has issued new rules to require that all lawyers (and perhaps even private parties acting without a lawyer) electronically file and serve most pleadings, including family law matters, AFTER removing (redacting) sensitive data. “Sensitive data” includes the names and addresses of minor children, as well as financial account numbers, social security numbers, and driver’s license numbers. See Texas Rules of Civil Procedure 21, 21a & 21c (effective January 1, 2014).

However, the Supreme Court’s rules cannot trump the Legislature’s statutes.

The clerks of each court are trying to determine how to comply with these competing requirements. Before filing any pleading, particularly in matters under the Texas Family Code, be sure to check with the appropriate clerk’s office to see whether they have adopted any local rules or procedures for handling “sensitive data.”

By:  Cynthia W. Veidt,