How to Remove Public Court Records from the Internet-FREE OF CHARGE ONLINE REPUTATION MANAGEMENT
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Remove #FakeNews from the Internet: Clean up permanently your online reputation and remove, all types of negative Google search results including, bad press, articles, blogs, reviews, court, police and arrest records, mugshots, court filings, court decisions, bankruptcy records, images, videos.
We all have things we’d prefer that strangers didn’t know. What happens when those private facts and photos end up online?
Keeping tabs on yourself through search engines is your first line of defense. If you know the right ways to search and what to look for, you can find sensitive personal info you would have never known was public. Here’s how to perform an exhaustive search.
All this sleuthing may spur you to consider an alternative to data-hungry Google. What about a search site that won’t track you or a private email server? Nice.
Once you dig up info on yourself, it’s time to see what you can make vanish. Before you turn to paying online reputation services, take these steps yourself.
Public records: Can they be removed?
You can request to remove sensitive information like your phone number or Social Security number from public records in most states. Don’t expect to have court records, marriage licenses or mugshots wiped from the internet, though.
If you want to give it a shot, call your county clerk’s office. Ask the clerk if individual pieces of information can be redacted or altered.
Now, let’s move to information that you’ll have more luck removing.
1. Get Google to hide your house from view
Google Maps is convenient and Street View is fun to poke around in, but you might not want photos of your house and address number out there. You can request a privacy blur over pictures of your home or vehicle.
Open Google Maps or the Street View gallery and look up your address.
Find and open the Street View photo you want to have blurred. The image has to show your face, home, license plate or other identifying information to qualify.
In the bottom right, click Report a problem.
Complete the form, then click Submit.
Once the photo is reported and blurred, there’s no way for Google to reverse it. Make sure you’re sure about removing the image before you submit your request.
2. Make your social media accounts private
Much of the information about you online comes from social media sites. Lockdown your past and future updates to just friends and family.
Open the Settings menu in the top right corner and select Settings and Privacy > Settings.
Click Privacy in the left menu. Under Your Activity, you’ll see, “Who can see your future posts?” Set that to Friends or your preferred group.
You can also restrict who can see your past posts from this menu.
At the bottom of the page, you’ll see, “Do you want search engines outside of Facebook to link to your profile?” Click Edit and deselect the checkbox.
Open your profile and tap the three-line icon in the top right corner.
Tap Settings at the bottom of the menu that appears.
Tap Privacy. Under Account Privacy, toggle Private Account on.
On a computer, click More in the left-hand menu. Click Settings and privacy.
Select Privacy and safety > Audience and tagging.
Click the checkbox next to Protect your Tweets.
Want to make your retreat from social media permanent? Tap or click here to see how to deactivate your social media profiles for good.
3. Reach out to the source
If you find unsavory or intrusive information about yourself on a website, contact the site owner. There may be a “Contact Us” link or email address. If not, search for the owner using Whois.
Politely but firmly ask the site owner to remove what you found. If the information is copyrighted, you can reference the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) and request a takedown.
In situations where someone else has posted about you, like on an internet forum, contact the forum owners directly and explain why you’d like the information taken down.
You can also file a legal request with Google to have sensitive information removed. Common requests include explicit or personal images, financial or medical information, and “doxxing” content that exposes your information to harm you. Use this link to make a removal request.
The process could take some time. There’s no guarantee, but it’s worth a shot.
An email you’ll actually want to read: The internet doesn’t come with an instruction manual. For digital tricks you can trust, try my free Tech Tips newsletter.
4. Remove yourself from people-search sites
People-search websites collect data on millions of people and sell it to the highest bidder. You can opt-out, but you may have to jump through a few hoops.
I recommend removing yourself from these sites first:
Intelius, which also operates Classmates.com, iSearch, Peoplelookup, PublicRecords, ZabaSearch
To help you shortcut the process, we put together an easy-to-follow guide. It includes instructions to remove yourself from the sites above and lots of others.
Privacy bonus: Wipe out your Google history
If you haven’t reviewed your Google privacy settings in a while, now’s the time to do it. I bet you’ll be shocked by all the searches, locations, and voice messages on file.
Tap or click here for a complete guide to finding and deleting your Google history across all its popular products, including search, YouTube, and Maps.
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Regulations & Laws That Allow Public Court Records to be Available Online
The United States has a very long history of allowing court proceedings and records to be available for review by the general public. Laws and regulations that allow public records to be published or accessed online have their roots in the:
Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), and
Public records law of each state.
But there can be exceptions to the above laws and regulations, such as when an individual’s right to privacy outweighs the public’s interest in accessing court information.
Court records found online are usually reposted information on third-party websites. These websites have no relationship with the legal system. Courts and law enforcement agencies will often have court documents available for public review. However, (excepting federal court proceedings) these official records will rarely show up in a Google or search engine query.
Some of these websites include PacerMonitor, Leagle, and PlainSite. Court-records websites work by first searching public records. They then publish any court documents found.
Occasionally, these court-record websites will remove out-of-date information on their own when updating their databases. They may also agree to take records down when they receive a letter with a copy of a court order to remove content showing that the court case or official record has been sealed or expunged.
Certain types of documents are not made public. For example, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) will not disclose to the public charges of employment discrimination, charge conciliation information, or raw EEO survey data. Other types of employment litigation records that are not available to the general public include:
Complaints filed by federal employees.
Internal documents reflecting the deliberations of agency officials.
Confidential legal documents, such as attorney-client communications and attorney work-product.
Information provided to the EEOC by confidential sources.
Personal information, such as medical history, social security numbers, and contact information.
Benefits of Removing Public Court Orders Available Online
A good analogy to understand the benefit of asking a court to seal or expunge a court record is to look at the medical context. Everyone knows that the best way to treat an illness is to address the cause of the illness, not just the symptoms.
Trying to remove court records without sealing or expunging them is like only treating the symptoms of an illness. As long as the underlying cause of the illness exists (the public court record), removing the symptoms (court records showing up on the internet) may require continuous ongoing treatment.
Even when gone, the symptoms can always come back (a buried search result working its way back to the top or a new court record website). Only by removing the cause (sealing or expunging a court record) can you expect the symptoms of the illness to be gone for good (court records no longer showing up in an internet search forever).
Removing public court records from the internet can significantly impact your life and livelihood in three key ways:
Improve your digital footprint and privacy;
Improve your chances of securing employment;
Allow you to relocate.
How Removing Public Court Records Can Affect Your Privacy & Online Reputation
In today’s digital age, what your online reputation says about you is paramount. Most everyone, including potential romantic partners, future employers, and business clients, researches an individual’s digital footprint before engaging them.
When your digital footprint tells a sour story, naturally, someone is less likely to engage you. Or, they may feel compelled (and empowered) to harass you or invade your privacy.
For example, someone may have a compelling interest in keeping his or her court records private once they have been acquitted of a criminal charge, because of the potential discrimination, ostracization, or even threat to their safety the release could cause.
How Removing Public Court Records Can Affect Your Job
Some clients resign or lose their jobs based on an arrest record, court case(s), or other information contained in public records on high ranking websites. Not everything that is listed in, say, a police report detailing an arrest ends up being proven true.
In those cases, if you can beat a criminal charge and have your criminal record expunged or sealed, you can likely get back on track and potentially get your job back or seek out new opportunities with confidence and not worry about prospective employers prying into unsubstantiated allegations.
How Removing Public Court Records Can Affect Your Ability to Relocate
Landlords and lenders run credit checks, and many go one step further by conducting an informal background check. Publicly visible court records can make moving to a new apartment or getting approved for a home loan more difficult by amplifying negative personal information and allegations contained in court records.
Getting rid of that unnecessary online noise helps lenders and landlords give you a fair shot during your next big move.
How to Access Public Court Records on the Internet
An individual can usually access public court records in two ways:
Online court records system;
Third-party legal records websites.
First, there is public access through a court system’s official online records system. Every state has its own court rules that dictate how online court records will work. And many states will allow each county or locality to further control how electronic records may be accessed.
This can include what information is available online. For example, one court might only have simple docket entries viewable online. If someone wants to access an actual court document, they will have to do so at the courthouse. In another state or county, every single court document might be converted into electronic form. This will allow anyone to view the document online.
The federal courts also have their own electronic court records system, called PACER. This is open to the public, so an individual can access practically all court documents in a federal case. There is a fee to use PACER, although, for limited searches, the fee can be waived.
Second, there are the third-party legal websites that we discussed earlier. These sites search public records databases, then republish the information on their own websites.
The overall goal of most of these court-records websites is to make public legal information available as easily as possible. For many people, these third-party websites are one of their main sources of legal material.
These sites can vary widely in how they work and what they offer. Some might be completely free, while others might charge a subscription fee. Sometimes this subscription cost can be very high. Two leading examples of this include LexisNexis and Westlaw, the two major research databases in the legal world.
Some websites might focus on court opinions written by judges. Others may have all court documents, including mundane litigation matters like proofs of service and procedural motions. Others might be less-than-flattering mugshot websites with a photo of you from the worst moment of your life.
The average person may not know about the law library at their local courthouse. And even if they did, they would not know where to start looking for information. Then there is the practical challenge of finding time to go down there to physically begin their legal search.
Court-records websites want to provide legal information to the public.
As a result, these court-records websites are reluctant to remove any information from their databases. They might view this as a disservice to their customers and the general public.
This might seem like a hurdle to getting court records removed from the internet. But it is actually an advantage. It allows sealing or expunging a court record to be an effective way to remove public court records from the internet.
These websites view themselves as providers of legal information. This means they want to have the most accurate and up-to-date information possible. When a court record gets sealed or expunged, the third-party website will want to update its database to reflect this change.
Generally speaking, websites do not have a legal requirement to update their records to match the official court records. But a court might decide that an individual or group’s privacy interest outweighs the public’s access to that information. In this situation, court-records websites will often respect the court’s determination.
When to Seek Help From an Expert to Remove Public Records From the Internet
There are serious roadblocks to removing court records from the web. You may want to seek the help of an attorney instead of resorting to self-help, especially if you need to file something with a court. An experienced internet attorney can:
File motions on your behalf,
Collect and prepare evidence to bolster your removal request,
Cite to cases that will help convince a judge that your case should be private, and
Help convince websites that they should remove the court materials.
Asking to seal or expunge a criminal record is not as easy as filling out of a form that anyone can submit. It will typically only work for minor offenses or offenses committed by a juvenile and involve some argument or approval from the prosecutor’s office. Each state will have its own eligibility rules on how to apply these requirements.
Examples of minor crimes include a public intoxication charge or minor drug offense.
There may also be a limit on the number of convictions that may be sealed or expunged. For instance, in New York, you can seal an eligible criminal conviction, but only if you have no more than two prior misdemeanors or one prior felony.
In civil matters, like a divorce proceeding, an individual will need a compelling reason to convince a court to seal the court records. Embarrassment will rarely be enough to convince a judge to seal a public court record.
Even if both sides agree that certain information should be kept confidential, a judge may still decline the request to seal the court records. However, tailoring the agreement as part of a settlement or contract between the parties may increase the chances of success.
What is Justia.com?
Justia.com is a valuable resource for court dockets, filings, and legal opinions from federal and state courts. Justia.com obtains their information from official records, but they acknowledge that it is not in the entirety of what is available in public records. Justia is an excellent resource for finding public records online, and it can save a lot of time you would normally spend searching for court information.
What is Online Defamation / Cyber Libel?
According to the Electronic Frontier Foundation, online defamation is the creation of false statements to ruin someone’s reputation. Online defamation, also called cyber libel, is a malicious act that can lead to a court order for the removal of web content. Online defamation and cyber libel claims are more complex when dealing with a public records site like Justia.com. The information published on Justia.com are public records and Justia.com is acting more like a distributor of online content than a publisher of such content.
Why is it Difficult to Remove Content from Justia.com?
You may wish to request your public records to be filed under seal. Filing under seal is a procedure allowing sensitive or confidential information, commonly found in legal proceedings, to be filed with a court without becoming a matter of public record. If the filings are under seal, the records will not appear on Justia.com or any other public records Website.
Remove Content from Justia.com
Section 230 CDA
Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act
Section 230 in the Communications Decency Act protects websites like Justia.com from liability for publishing or republishing information provided by third parties. It protects the owner, host, and internet provider for liability for the content published on a website, “No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider.”Section 230 further provides that “[n]o cause of action may be brought and no liability may be imposed under any State or local law that is inconsistent with this section.”
Websites that host third-party content — such as blogs, bulletin boards, social media sites, and even legal resources sites, like Justia.com, are treated differently than newspapers, television and radio broadcasters. If a website host did not have some type of legal immunity, there would be countless lawsuits relating to online content, and the courts would be forced to investigate the truth or falsehood of potentially every statement of fact or opinion. Few websites would take the risk of publishing third party content, for fear of a lawsuit, and this would chill freedom of speech. In section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, the host is not liable for what people submit or post on the site.
Fair Use allows for the reuse of already copyrighted content, under certain circumstances. When most people think about Fair Use, they think about copyright-free images that are free to use, such as sharing content on Facebook or Instagram, but Fair Use applies to all types of content, including written content.
Unfortunately, the Internet has made it very easy for others to steal content and repost it as their own. That would not count as Fair Use because they discredit the real owner of the copyright. Fair Use only applies in certain situations and has been the subject of frequent litigation. When in doubt over whether the content is fair use, ask for permission or consult an attorney.
How to Remove a Post on Justia.com
There are several ways to remove public court records and other personal information from Justia.com.
To fully remove public records from Justia.com, including real estate records, court records (filings), birth, marriage, and divorce records, and motor vehicle data you may need a court order. Requests to remove publicly available information from websites like Justia.com, including private information revealed in evidence, pleadings, or other documents (such as exhibits, affidavits, and transcripts) that are part of the public court record, must be made in writing and be accompanied by an order from a court sealing or redacting the records — essentially making the information subject to the court order non-public information.