Opinion

Auditor explains decision to block access

by Carolyn A. Diepenbrock
Snohomish County Auditor


Dear Mr. Passey:
I am sympathetic to your concerns. The Snohomish County Auditors Office has long remained one of the few county agencies that have continued to put all their recorded documents online over the past few years because we also felt it was of service to most people.
But when each successive year brings new bills from our legislators aimed at redaction of information in public documents, document removal from the web, and other public outcry misperceived as it might be regarding identity theft and publicly displayed documents, it seemed prudent to remove from web viewing only those particular document types that routinely contain personal information. Keep in mind that the documents we are removing are often not covered by the statute you refer to below (RCW 65.04.080(2)) regarding required information removal before recording.
Please note that there is no obligation at all for the Auditors across the state to display documents on the web; the obligation is to make documents open, accessible and publicly displayed in our offices. We are leaving our complete index on the internet, so that will prove beneficial to people trying to find out if a document exists and what type of document it is or what it relates to. Putting your index on the web is not mandated either, but it is less of an issue than the full content of the document.
If legislation that currently exists this year passes, auditors across the state will be forced to search and redact information that is not part of our indices and therefore is extremely expensive to find and mask. That would be of greater concern to all of us then simply removing the few types from web viewing that we are doing currently. Until there is more understanding given to unfunded legislation like this, and more understanding about the original and current purpose of having open public records such as real property related recorded documents, I am afraid we will be at the mercy of every well meaning citizen and/or legislator who is trying to protect victims of id theft.
King, Pierce, Thurston and Kitsap counties to name but a few have had little problem with simply reducing from web viewing document types required to have social security numbers in them now. Again, most counties dont have any of their documents online at all. And this is true of most counties across the country as well. Given that, it was my opinion that removing relatively few of the documents from web viewing only would be the least onerous for all involved until a broader, uniform law is proposed that would consistently change the content, access and viewing requirements for these records. We have consistently relayed all the concerns you mention, in addition to our concerns about cost and the impact of reducing public access, to our legislators every year. I suggest you pass on your concerns to them as well. They may have a greater ability than I to influence how we all are required to display public records such as these in the future.

Carolyn Diepenbrock was appointed by the Snohomish County Council to replace Bob Terwilliger on Jan. 4, 2007. Terwilliger left to serve as Superior Court Administrator for the county. Diepenbrock previously worked in the auditors office prior to her appointment since 1990. She may be reached at Carolyn.Diepenbrock@co.snohomish.wa.us or at 425-388-3472.

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