KIAWAH ISLAND - Protecting court records from hackers remains just as vital as efforts to ensure the repeat of the Department of Revenue theft of taxpayer data doesn't happen again, South Carolina Supreme Court Chief Justice Jean Toal said.

Bank records, Family Court reports, attorney information and Social Security numbers are just some of the bits of information that will be housed in the data stream, she said, as the state continues moving toward fully operating under an electronic court system.

The goal is to be sure "that as we move toward electronic use and digitized use of court records, we have in place the kind of data network security that we have to," she said. That includes extensive employee training because they would be among the first to recognize a potential breach, she said.

Toal's comments came Friday during her State of the Judiciary Address delivered to a lunchtime gathering of the state Bar's annual convention meeting at The Sanctuary.

For several years Toal has pushed the state's court system to become more electronically oriented. Some of the latest reforms coming include e-filing of cases and documents - like what is done in the federal system - and allowing videos, photographs and digital images to become part of appeal records.

"It's going to make us a lot more effective and efficient as judges, and you as lawyers, to be able to access these appellate records in this way," she said.

But she said that ensuring privacy remains a concern, especially when it comes to Family Court. There, more sensitive and personal information like bank records can come into play in filings such as divorce or custody matters.

"The Family Court records are going to be the biggest challenge," she said, "because there's in the older records so much data that's very personal in nature. We need to be able to protect privacy in that regard."

When the e-filing system of cases and records goes online, Toal said she doesn't envision charges being incurred by those who want to view the documents, only on those who do the filing. The fee schedule has not been determined.

"We want to make it as low as we can to really make people use it," she said.

The process will begin with pilot programs later this year in Charleston, Greenville and Clarendon counties.

"As soon as those three kind of look at it and de-bug it then we'll begin to deploy the whole thing statewide," she said.

Charleston County Master-in-Equity Judge Mikell Scarborough said Friday he still enjoys having a hard copy of documents in his hand, but said he realizes e-filing is the wave of the future. He and his staff can see things online now via the Charleston County system when it might take days for a hard copy to reach his office.

After her address, Toal declined to address the Feb. 5 Statehouse election for chief justice. She is being challenged by Associate Justice Costa Pleicones in a race that some Statehouse observers say appears to be tightening.

Pleicones surprised many in the state's legal arenas when he announced last year that he would seek the post.

Reach Schuyler Kropf at 937-5551.