Local courts leave defendants open to identity theft

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COLUMBIA — If someone is arrested, the documents associated with that person's file are public information. However, under Missouri's Sunshine Law, the defendant's Social Security number needs to be omitted from the document before it is distributed to the public. 

KOMU 8 has multiple complaint letters and probable cause statements from various courts in mid-Missouri that include both the defendants' birth dates and full Social Security numbers.

The Boone County Courthouse Administrator Mary Epping said this has been brought to the court's attention.

"This topic came up recently, and we are trying to figure out the best way to distribute this information without giving out Social Security Numbers."

Epping said Social Security numbers are required to be on the documents so officials can ensure accuracy when charging and making arrests. 

When asked why the Boone County Clerk's Office was not omitting SSNs from documents before distributing them to the general public, Epping referenced statute 610.035 of the Missouri Sunshine Law. She said she believed the court is protected under the statute. However, the beginning of the statute reads,

"No state entity shall publicly disclose any Social Security number of a living person unless such disclosure is permitted by federal law, federal regulation or state law or unless such disclosure is authorized by the holder of that Social Security number or unless such disclosure is for use in connection with any civil, criminal, administrative or arbitral proceeding in any federal, state or local court or agency or before any self-regulatory body, including the service of process, investigation in anticipation of litigation and the execution or enforcement of judgments and orders, or pursuant to an order of a federal, state or local court."

Deetra Williams, court administrator for the Columbia Municipal Court, said all documents distributed by the municipal court has the SSN removed before they are given out. 

"If you came to municipal court to get certain personal information, you would have to provide an ID to show that it is your information you are getting," Williams said. "I can only speak for the municipal court, but under the Sunshine Law, we are required to redact certain information."

According to information from the Federal Trade Commission's Sentinel Network Data Book, which calculates fraud complaints by state, Missouri is ranked fourth in the nation for most fraud complaints. 

The Data Book also showed identity theft as the highest reported form of fraud.