Virginia Courts Project; Effect of Online Court Records

Bacon, Matthew, School of Engineering and Applied Science, University of Virginia
Elliott, Travis, University of Virginia
Davidson, Jack, EN-Comp Science Dept, University of Virginia

Every day tens of thousands of terabytes are uploaded to the internet, most of which people are happy to share. What is shared ranges from Facebook birthday posts to an Instagram photo of food they ate at the latest trendy restaurant. However, not all information is shared willingly. The states and the federal government routinely publish court records exposing people’s criminal records and other unflattering information. These court records serve a purpose of informing the public and increasing government transparency and accountability. However, this comes with the cost to people’s personal privacy, and could cause them to wear a scarlet letter.
For my technical project I will be creating an easily navigated court record database. First, we will take cases from public court records online in Virginia and eventually other states, anonymize the defendants and plaintiffs in cases i.e. remove their names, and add the records to our own database at UVA. We will then create a public facing website that allows people to easily extract all data from specific dates, localities, or other relevant data from the database we created. The site will be mainly targeted for researchers at UVA, and more specifically help researchers easily uncover inequities in the criminal justice system.
As for my STS thesis, I will be looking into the benefits and drawbacks of these online court records that I am using in my technical project. I will study specific difficulties people with public criminal records have faced, as well as the societal benefits of these records such as safer neighborhoods, jobs, and increased governmental transparency and accountability. Even though court records have been available for over a century, the public court system was designed in a time when it was necessary to physically enter the courthouse in order to access the information-- not in a world where we can get information through a few clicks in the comfort of our own homes. This change has had profound consequences, and I will look at how these changes have affected various social groups.

BS (Bachelor of Science)

School of Engineering and Applied Science
Bachelor of Science in Computer Science
Technical Advisor: Jack Davidson
STS Advisor: Sean Travis Elliott
Technical Team Members: David Stern, David Alves, Jessie Shen, Andrew Kim

All rights reserved (no additional license for public reuse)
Issued Date: