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Van Hollen Issues Formal Opinion Approving Transmission of Certain Confidential Case Information Between Courts & Law Enforcement

 

Electronic interfaces transmitting certain confidential information about certain arrest warrants, temporary restraining orders, and injunctions may utilize the secondary transport system operated by the Wisconsin Justice Information Sharing Program ("WIJIS") without violating applicable confidentiality laws.

 

MADISON - Responding to an inquiry from Director of State Courts A. John Voelker, Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen today issued an formal opinion approving transmission of confidential information about certain arrest warrants, temporary restraining orders, and injunctions through electronic interfaces involving the court system, law enforcement, and WIJIS.

 

The "warrant interface" transmits arrest warrant information to the county sheriff's office as an arrest warrant is issued by a circuit court using the Consolidated Court Automation Programs system ("CCAP").  The sheriff's office adds certain information, then transmits the warrant to the Transaction Information for Management of Enforcement System (the "TIME System") at the Wisconsin Department of Justice for the purpose of notifying law enforcement statewide.  When the warrant is executed, the sheriff's office uses the same interface to transmit service information back to the circuit court.  Similarly, the "protection order interface" will perform the same functions for domestic abuse, harassment, individual at risk, and child protection temporary restraining orders and injunctions issued pursuant to chapter 813 of the Wisconsin Statutes.

 

The warrant interface and protection order interface differ in one important respect from other electronic interfaces through which the court system transmits confidential case information to justice system partners.  In addition to CCAP, the warrant interface and protection order interface also involve the WIJIS "Workflow Engine" secondary data transport system.  The WIJIS Workflow Engine is a computer server that functions similarly to a mailbox, collecting electronic messages and queuing them for delivery to law enforcement agencies.

 

Responding to Voelker's inquiry about involvement of the WIJIS Workflow Engine to transmit confidential data that WIJIS could not obtain independently, Van Hollen reasoned that the WIJIS Workflow Engine is just a conduit for electronic data messages passing through the warrant or protection order interfaces.  The vast majority of electronic data messages travelling through the warrant and protection order interfaces will not involve confidential information.  Nevertheless, the few WIJIS technicians with access to the Workflow Engine must pass stringent background checks and sign on with passwords.

 

Unless a transmission problem occurs at the WIJIS Workflow Engine, Van Hollen explained, WIJIS staff would have no need or reason to open any electronic data message, view the content of any individual message, or generally browse the content of messages passing through the interfaces.  The troubleshooting role of WIJIS staff with respect to the interfaces therefore is the same as any other technician or contractor who might be called upon to deal with a problem in existing transmission mechanismssuch as fixing a malfunctioning FAX machine.  Lack of need, reason, or opportunity to "browse" at will through confidential substantive information therefore distinguishes the limited technical role of WIJIS staff with respect to electronic data messages passing through the interfaces from impermissible, unrestrained access to confidential substantive information stored in restricted areas of CCAP's databases or other confidential case records.

 

Van Hollen concluded that there is a difference between impermissibly disclosing sealed or confidential records to the world at large, and permissibly disclosing them in an incidental, limited fashion to professionally-interested and necessary persons such as the WIJIS technicians who would troubleshoot transmission problems through the warrant and protection order interfaces.

 

A copy of the original request from Director of State Courts A. John Voelker is available at:

 

2010 file: