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The science of land record searching will take a leap into the cyberage in Connecticut on Oct. 1, when people like Philip Peter Apter will be able to start waving magic wands to capture deeds and other public documents. Apter, who runs Eastland Title Services in South Windsor, Conn., has waged a one-man battle to be allowed to run his battery-powered hand-held scanner over public documents in town records offices, as part of his title searching business. Soon, thanks to a short paragraph tucked into a Connecticut legislative act concerning the confidentiality of military records, Apter and other searchers can bypass the $1-a-page copy machines and scan records on their own. The records clerks can charge in a fee structure of up to $10 “each time the individual copies records at the agency with a hand-held scanner.” To be legal, a search must leave no mark or impression on the public record, and may not “unreasonably interfere with the operation of the public agency.” Apter, who has dozens of part-time searchers working for him in Connecticut and Massachusetts, has been attempting to make this technological and legal breakthrough for years. Before the passage of House Bill 5625 this year, the policies of clerks varied widely from town to town in Connecticut, Apter says. A clerk in Farmington, for example, allowed him to scan for a while, but his replacement nixed the practice. On June 1, 1999, Apter sought a Freedom of Information Commission ruling that he could use the scanner, a self-contained device a bit smaller than a portable CD player. He made the point that it does not require individual pages to be removed from the record books. The FOIC ruled in his favor Jan. 20, 2000, but the City of Hartford, Conn., appealed. Daniel Carey, Hartford town clerk, produced a letter from the state public records administrator saying clerks could forbid scanners on the grounds that they could be damaging to records. In fact, says Apter, the scanners minimize wear and tear by not requiring large books to be disassembled, or be squashed onto a copier’s glass platen. Over the decades that photocopiers have been in clerks’ offices, Apter said in an interview, they have grown from a convenience into a revenue generator. Initially clerks were permitted to charge a per-page fee, partly justified by the use of staff time to make the copies. However, when self-service machines were installed, the price of copying did not decrease, Apter notes. Currently, most towns charge $1 per do-it-yourself-page. In his defense against Hartford’s appeal, in New Britain Superior Court, Apter testified that the cities could lose $60,000 per year in copying revenue if he switched to hand scanning. Judge Howard T. Owens Jr., unwilling to stretch the language of the copying statute, ruled against scanner use. The law said a person may inspect or “receive a copy of such records.” The meaning of “inspect” does not include electronically scan, Owens found. The legislative amendment was designed to correct that holding, confirmed Mitchell W. Pearlman, counsel and executive director of the FOIC. After learning of the bill’s passage, Apter said the $10-per-visit provision would not necessarily be a cost saving for his title searchers, but it would definitely save time. With the advent of Internet-advertised mortgage financing, national companies are competing on the time and cost of residential closings, and are placing increasing emphasis on rapid title searches. To shave time, they want documentation sent electronically, if possible. So even when making paper copies, Apter says, he and his workers return to their offices and scan the copied pages into electronic images. “This will save a lot of extra work,” he said. In Massachusetts, towns have seldom objected to the use of hand scanners, Apter said. They only require a light swipe of the scanner over the page, without pressure. In the near future, Apter predicts, a cellular phone modem connection will make it possible to scan and transmit deed images from the record room to any computer or fax machine.

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