Database leaks 250K legal documents, some marked ‘not designated for publication’

Catalin Cimpanu reports:

A database containing 257,287 legal documents, with some marked as “not designated for publication,” was left exposed on the public internet without a password, allowing anyone to access and download a treasure trove of sensitive legal materials.

The database, which was left online for roughly two weeks, contained unpublished legal documents relating to US court cases, the security researcher who found it told ZDNet.

Read more on ZDNet.

But were the files really a trove of sensitive materials?  I don’t think “unpublished” means what the researcher seemed to be suggesting it might mean.  As I understand it (and I could be wrong, of course), an unpublished opinion or one “not designated for publication” is not one that has to be kept sealed or confidential. It is simply an opinion that the court doesn’t want future cases citing as precedential. The opinions are available and I think they can even be cited to try to persuade a court, but they are not precedential. I’ve reached out to a lawyer to try to get clarification on my understanding, but if I’m correct, then:

What did the researcher really find in terms of sensitivity or confidentiality? Did any of the filings contain sensitive information? The researcher’s report offers no redacted samples of any filing had been marked “SEALED” or “CONFIDENTIAL” or anything like that, so reached out to Security Discovery to see if there were sealed files in the leak.  Bob Diachenko responded that

there were references to “sealed” cases throughout the texts, with descriptions of the cases.  But most of the cases were marked as ‘not designated for publication’, ‘not to be published in the official reports’ + references to sealed cases.

So it’s still not clear whether there any actual exhibits or files that were stamped “sealed” or “confidential” or if there was just sanitized references to sealed cases.

In any event, the leak shouldn’t have happened, and it’s not even clear whose leak it was.


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