Florida will be a trendsetter if it successfully implements plans to make state court records accessible online. This process began more than a decade ago but has been hampered by understandable privacy concerns. Now state leaders are ready for a broad launch, with procedures and software in place that should help protect citizens' sensitive information. Counties should fully embrace this effort that will save the public time and money by allowing them to provide court records on the Internet at no cost.
Fifty-nine counties across the state, including Pinellas and Hillsborough, received permission earlier this month to begin putting most of their court documents online. Those counties have about four months to start implementing a 90-day test program, according to the Florida Courts Technology Commission, which reviews counties' applications to distribute records online. If the test programs operate smoothly, each county will be able to provide electronic access to documents ranging from death certificates to divorce files.
The Florida Constitution and state law give citizens the right to view public documents, mostly through in-person visits. But in an increasingly digital society, requiring people to trek to courthouses is highly inefficient. Florida's new process is a smart, 21st century solution. The state's six counties that have expressed no interest in making their files accessible online should get on board.