Hinfelaar and Sambo: Digitization vs Privacy in Court Decisions and Court Records: Presentation at Southern Africa Chief Justices Forum

Dr. Marja Hinfelaar and Dr. Pamela Sambo, both of the Southern African Institute for Policy and Research, gave a presentation entitled Digitization vs Privacy, at the Southern Africa Chief Justices Forum (SACJF) 2013, 2 August 2013 in Livingstone, Zambia.

The presentation is summarized in a new post at the AfricanLII Blog.

Click here for the presentation slides.

Here is a summary:

It was discussed that access to digital information is becoming commonplace and that this has consequences for all organisations and institutions, including the judiciary. At a practical level, it means that institutions have to digitize information that is only available in hard copy. There are good reasons to do so: it is good for preservation, as materials are made searchable and it encourages institutions to organize their documents for later use. The documents of public institutions ought to be a public good and the internet provides that opportunity.

It was emphasised that having open access to information on the web has far reaching consequence. In line with open access, it was discussed more specifically that access to legal information is very important. […]

Examples were provided of judgments and media reports which have blatantly breached the right to privacy, i.e. the mentioning of names of minors in a defilement case or the HIV/AIDS status of a partner in a divorce case. The consequences of such private information floating on the internet are innumerable for the individuals concerned, as it can affect their future relationships, employment opportunities, etc. Moreover, it was observed that this might lead to people avoiding the courts of law because of fear that private details can be disclosed to society at large.

There was consensus on the urgent need for guidelines, implementation and enforcement of privacy rules in the dissemination of judgments. Since the judiciary is the source of all court information, SAIPAR suggested that this where privacy protection should start. It was pointed out that privacy guidelines and anonymisation protocols are by and large not applied in the region, with the exception of a few countries. It is notable that information knows no boundaries; as we share information, we have to ensure that privacy protection mechanisms are enforced in neighbouring judicial institutions.

The presentation concluded by reiterating one of SACJF‘s objectives which encourages the publication and dissemination of court judgments and the use of information technology. […]

For a summary of the post-presentation discussion with the audience, and for more information, please see the complete post.

HT @AfricanLII

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