Texas law and court rules require careful protection of sensitive data. This article explains what information is protected, what information is public record, and the steps you can take to protect or seal your private information.
What is sensitive data? What data is protected?
Under the Texas Rules of Civil Procedure sensitive data consists of:
- A driver's license number, passport number, social security number, tax identification number, or similar government-issued personal identification number;
- A bank account number, credit card number, or another financial account number; and
- A birth date, a home address, and the name of any person who was a minor when the underlying suit was filed.
The Texas Business and Commerce Code includes identity protection for information that relates to:
- The physical health, mental health, or condition of the individual;
- Healthcare the individual may be receiving; and
- Payment for the healthcare the individual may be receiving.
Is sensitive data automatically protected?
Sensitive data is protected by both civil and criminal law in Texas. Rule 21c of the Texas Rules of Civil Procedure has strict rules for the redaction and filing of sensitive data in civil cases.
If a document contains sensitive data, the filing party must notify the clerk. In electronically filed documents, notify the clerk by labeling the document as "containing sensitive data." The electronic filing system will give you a prompt for documents containing sensitive data.
For non-electronically filed documents, notify the clerk by including, on the upper left-hand side of the first page the phrase: "NOTICE: THIS DOCUMENT CONTAINS SENSITIVE DATA."
What is redaction?
You must redact the sensitive data when filing. Redaction is the censoring or obscuring of text for security purposes. The filing party must keep an unredacted version of the document while the case is pending. You can redact sensitive data by marking an "X" over every sensitive digit. You can also redact sensitive data by removing the information and indicating that sensitive data is redacted. You can do this by writing [REDACTED] where the deleted information was.
I am the victim of a crime or family violence. Is my information safe?
Yes, confidential case information and reporting communications are protected by the rules of confidentiality and privilege. Generally, victims' addresses and phone numbers are excluded from the court file unless necessary. For victims of family violence, these protections extend to communications with family violence service centers.
Crime victims may also complete a pseudonym form by communicating with the investigating law enforcement agency. Pseudonym forms require the law enforcement agency to replace your name in all reports, files and records in the agency's possession.
The Office of the Attorney General offers an Address Confidentiality Program for the victims of certain crimes. The Address Confidentiality Program prevents your address from being revealed by providing the victim with a post office box for identity purposes. See the Address Confidentiality Program Checklist and the Address Confidentiality Program Application.
What does it mean that a case is public reord?
Texas Government Code Chapter 552, known as the Texas Public Information Act, requires that the public have access to all information that is written, produced, assembled, or maintained in connection with the works of government agencies. Outside of limited exceptions for confidentiality, this includes the public availability of both criminal and civil court records. Texas Government Code 552.022(a)(17).
My landlord dropped (nonsuited) my eviction case. Can I get it off the record?
Unfortunately, no. When a landlord files an eviction suit, the filing becomes part of the public record. Even though the court did not decide to evict you, the fact that the case was filed is still public record. The documents filed by your landlord will also be a part of the public record. Although the case has not reached a conclusion, the status and information surrounding the eviction suit remain in the court's records.
Can I seal my records? How?
Some records can be sealed from public disclosure by petitioning for a nondisclosure order. A nondisclosure order, if approved by the judge, will require the local clerk to seal your court history record.
When a record is sealed, it means that the person subject to the nondisclosure is not required in any application for employment, information, or licensing to state that they have been the subject of any criminal proceeding that is related to the information that is the subject of the order. State and federal agencies will still be able to access the sealed information. Most private agencies will not be able to access records subject to a nondisclosure order. Texas Government Code 411.0755.
For a guide to petitioning for a nondisclosure order, see How to Ask for a Nondisclosure Order - Seal Your Criminal Record.
What does it mean to seal a record?
A record becomes sealed when a nondisclosure order is granted by the judge in your case. When a record is sealed, the court clerk will notify the Texas Department of Public Safety. Following notification, the clerk will then seal the records. When a record is sealed, it does not go away permanently, however the government is strictly limited in its ability to disclose the information to certain state agencies under limited circumstances. Texas Government Code 411.075.
Can you seal any kind of record?
Not every record can be sealed. Applicants are never eligible for nondisclosure if they have been convicted or placed on deferred adjudication for any of the following:
- Any offense requiring registration as a sex offender under Chapter 62 of the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure
- Aggravated Kidnapping (Texas Penal Code 20.04)
- Murder (Texas Penal Code 19.02)
- Capital murder (Texas Penal Code 19.03)
- Trafficking of persons (Texas Penal Code 20A.02)
- Continuous trafficking of persons (Texas Penal Code 20A.03)
- Any offense involving injury to a child, elderly individual, or disabled individual (Texas Penal Code 22.04)
- Abandoning or endangering a child (Texas Penal Code 22.041)
- Violation of court orders or conditions of bond in a family violence, sexual assault or abuse, stalking, or trafficking case (Texas Penal Code 25.07)
- Repeated violations of court orders or conditions of bond in a family violence, sexual assault or abuse, stalking, or trafficking case (Texas Penal Code 25.072)
- Stalking (Texas Penal Code 42.072)
- Any other offense involving family violence as defined by Texas Family Code 71.004.
To find out if you might qualify for a nondisclosure order, please look to the Nondisclosure Order Prep Guide.
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