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I know bankruptcies are public records, but does that mean everything you file is public? Every debt, even personal ones? Every domain name which would otherwise be protected by registrar privacy? I don't want to pay for PACER to see an example. Can people see the forms as filed or just the judgement?

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Short Answer

No. Not everything that is efiled is publicly accessible.

Long Answer

Most documents are public, but there are default levels of security for different kinds of documents.

The e-filing system can support several levels of security.

Some kinds of documents can be (and routinely are as a matter of course) sealed by court order following a motion to do so.

Also, every time someone efiles a document, the filing party has to certify all required redactions of documents that are efiled have been made before they are filed at the relevant levels of privacy/security.

Nonetheless, the amount of information which is publicly disclosed in a bankruptcy is very substantial and far exceeds what would have to be disclosed publicly in a non-bankruptcy context, and exceeds what would have to be disclosed publicly in other kinds of litigation.

The exact contours of what is and is not disclosed publicly is quite technical and detailed, and isn't all spelled out in one place. Some of it is in general national efiling rules, some is in local court rules, some is in non-rule efiling procedures, some is in standing court orders of a judge or a particular court, and some is in case specific orders, or is implicit in how the efiling system interface works.

Generally speaking, the petition, summaries of finances, motions and responses and replies to them are public, as are court orders, but exhibits to motions and responses and replies are often not public.

Impact Of A Recent Breach

As a matter of practical reality, all sealed and protected documents on PACER were recently (within the last few months) the subject of a malicious hacking attack that compromised the privacy protections of all of electronically filed documents in the entire federal e-filing system. As security breaches go, it was one of the most epic breaches in the history of the Internet and has been attributed to Russian hackers.

The federal courts, including the bankruptcy courts, are currently engaged in temporary work arounds that don't used the efiling system for documents with privacy protections as fixes are prepared and the cause of the breach is evaluated.

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  • Thank you for your detailed answer. I know you said what is redacted or not can be complex, but do you have any insight specifically as it relates to domain names and personal debts listed? – Ryan Edgehook Mar 3 at 22:06
  • @RyanEdgehook Not at that level of specificity. I efile cases in bankruptcy a couple of times a year, almost always representing creditors, so I don't pay much attention to those details (which are often handled by someone else in cases I am involved in). – ohwilleke Mar 4 at 2:06

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