Protection of information (redaction, confidentiality, sealing)
Wisconsin Statute § 801.19 (external link) defines five specific numbers as "protected information." Beginning on July 1, 2016, the following numbers should not be included in public documents that are filed with the Wisconsin courts:
- social security numbers
- employer and tax identification numbers
- financial account numbers (bank accounts, credit cards, passwords, and PINs)
- driver license and state identification numbers
- passport numbers
How to redact a document
"Redact" means to obscure individual pieces of information within a document:
- If you are preparing the document from scratch or completing a court form, you should omit all protected numbers from the document.
- If you are submitting a previously existing document, like a credit card statement or a tax form, you should redact (blank out) all protected numbers from the copy you file with the court.
If the number is required by law or is needed for the case, you should submit it separately on a confidential disclosure of protected information form (GF-241). If the court doesn't need the number, you simply leave it out.
The redacted copy will go in the public case file. The court may ask you to produce the original unredacted document if necessary, but you do not need to submit it unless requested. If you need to remove protected information from a record filed before July 1, 2016, use form GF-242. For redaction of a transcript, use form GF-243.
This statute applies to all court cases, even confidential cases like juvenile and guardianship. If you fail to redact protected information, the court may order you to submit new documents and pay any costs incurred by other parties. If you purposefully reveal the protected information of another person, you may be subject to sanctions such as attorney fees and costs. New statutes and forms are available for identifying other confidential records and for sealing court records.
Whether you are redacting on paper copies or electronic, you need to be sure that the underlying information cannot be viewed by others.
How to file a motion to seal
"Seal" means to order that a portion of a document or an entire document not be accessible to the public. Sealing orders apply to the information in all formats, both paper and electronic.
Wisconsin public policy favors public access to government records. Wis. Stat. § 59.20(3) (external link) provides specific authority for public inspection of papers required to be kept by the clerk of courts and register in probate. Some court records are protected by Wis. Stat. § 801.19 (external link) (social security, financial accounts, and driver license numbers) and Wis. Stat. § 801.20 (external link) (listing the court records made confidential by statute). For all other records, if you wish to keep information private, you must file a motion to seal. The motion may extend to an item of information like a name or address, a document like a medical report, or, in rare instances, the whole case.
The filing party may ask the court to redact (omit or blank out) certain pieces of information, to seal a document, or to seal the whole case. Forms GF-245–247 are available for making a motion to seal the court record or the transcript. The clerk cannot seal a record; this decision must be made by the court. The filing party must cite legal authority (such as statutes, court rules, or case law) and any necessary facts to explain why the information should not be publicly available.
The CCAP software automatically places form GF-245 under temporary seal when submitted through eFiling. The filer should check the radio button labeled “seal” in order to seal the documents submitted with the GF-245. Until the court rules on the motion, the information can be viewed only by the filer. The motions to seal, GF-246A and GF-247A, and their orders, GF-246B and GF-247B, are open to the public.
Some statutes provide that the court may seal certain records or seal the whole case:
- Antitrust actions (confidential business or trade secrets) [Wis. Stat. § 133.13(2)] (external link)
- Confidential informants (identification & testimony) [Wis. Stat. § 905.10(3)]
- Coroner's inquest if district attorney agrees [Wis. Stat. § 979.05(6), § 979.08(7)] (external link)
- Divorce judgments when set aside after reconciliation [Wis. Stat. § 767.35(6)] (external link)
- Divorce judgments when parties remarry each other [Wis. Stat. § 767.35(7)] (external link)
- Family actions for good cause shown [Wis. Stat. § 767.13] (external link)
- In camera inspection of alleged victim's psychological/psychiatric/treatment records under Shiffra/Green [State v. Green, 2002 WI 68, 253 Wis. 2d 356]
- In camera inspection of potential discovery [Wis. Stat. § 971.23(6m)] (external link)
- In camera inspection of state employment records if the employee demands de novo review of the release (Woznicki notice) [Wis. Stat. § 19.356] (external link)
- John Doe proceedings [Wis. Stat. § 968.26(4)] (external link)
- Juror Information [State v. Tucker, 2003 WI 12, 259 Wis. 2d 484]
- Restraining orders and injunctions, individual at risk [Wis. Stat. § 813.123(3)(c)2.] (external link)
- Trade secrets litigation [Wis. Stat. § 134.90(5)] (external link)
There are a number of important areas where statutory protection is unclear and the case law is not fully developed. If you wish to keep a record private, you should file a motion to seal for the following information:
- Medical and psychological records
- Crime victim information, including name and address
- Children's names in cases outside the Children's Code (Chapter 48) (external link) and Juvenile Code (Chapter 938) (external link)
- Driver records
- Personnel Records
- Qualified domestic relations order
- Victim impact statements
Other state statutes provide confidentiality for records when held by other custodians. These statutes may be used in support of a motion to the court, but the clerk of court will not treat that information as confidential without an order by the court (e.g. patient health care records).
Download printable flyers featuring information on how to redact documents and how to file a motion to seal:
- What is protected information?
- How do I ask the court to seal a record?
- What information does the court treat as confidential?