In a move that took public records advocates by surprise, a new Missouri law closes most documents in divorces currently on file in state courts, reports the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Future divorce cases will be public. But court clerks will be required to shield information in those files on the parties’ Social Security numbers, credit card numbers and bank accounts. Legislators said the changes were needed to reduce identity theft. The provisions were part of a thick judiciary bill that cleared the House in the final hours of the legislative session in May.
Rep. Bryan Stevenson, who shepherded the bill, said that under federal law, child-support orders must include the full Social Security numbers of parents and any minor children. Those documents made inviting targets for identity thieves, he said. Clerks will be required to black out all but the last four digits of the numbers in future cases. But Stevenson said it would have been “physically impossible for them to go through every file over the last 100 years,” so those files were closed. The Missouri Press Association, which was alerted to the change just this week, said it was disappointed that files were closed.