Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Two Sets of Books

A consequence of recent legislative interest in new legislation designed to protect privacy and prevent identity theft has shed new light on existing laws that limit access to public records. At last count, we have discovered at least sixty statutes that restrict or limit access to some public records. Thus far, this has not been an issue at the registry of deeds, but as privacy concerns continue to mount, there is a distinct possibility that registries will have to alter their practices in a way that will have an enormous impact on conveyancing. Some cases, such as redacting social security numbers, are relatively benign, but in other instances, we may have to remove entire documents and large portions of indexing information from public view. The target of a stalker who is admitted into the Address Confidentiality Program (ACP), for example, must have all records showing his address removed from public view. It was my understanding that registry of deeds records were initially exempted from this program, but I have heard that this might change. So hypothetically, if someone who owns real estate goes into the Address Confidentiality Program and registry of deeds records are included, we would have to remove all records that identified the address of that person – let’s call him John Doe – from our records. Here’s how I think it would work: we would print the existing index entry and the document to preserve the official record. We would then go into the index and remove the town code and address of the property. This wouldn’t just be for deeds, but would also include mortgages, discharges, MLCs and anything else with the address on it. Then, in place of the document image, we would scan a notice that said something like “The document at this book and page is part of the address confidentiality program: please see the registry staff to view the document.” The customer would then go to a designated place within the registry, fill out a form explaining why he needed to see the document, present personal identification, and only then be allowed to view the document (we’re not yet sure about whether we can provide a copy of the document). As I said, this is only theoretical right now, but the implications of pulling some documents out of our public records and maintaining “two sets of books” are significant and should be thoroughly discussed by the bar.

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