What's the big deal? Public records have always been public

I was all set to post something in response to all the news about Deval Patrick's website when I came across this post on Universal Hub. Apparently Paul McNamara over at Network World feels the same way I do, which is that it's hardly a revelation that public records are easily accessible on the internet.

In fact, he feels so strongly that he's launched a contest, offering $100 to the first person who can find his home address using the internet and explain how they did it. I was able to find it with about six page views. Once he's closed the contest, I'll explain how I did it (unless he posts how I did it, in which case you can polish your sleuthing skills by following the link to his page).

Edited to add: It looks as if I've won the contest...


Intelius said...

Hi there - I was pleased to find this post, as a regular user of public information services and an employee of Intelius, a provider of public information services like background checks, people searches and reverse phone searches. I can't tell you how many stories I hear from users of such information thanking us for making this information easier and faster to access than ever before.

I'm often, too, surprised to hear the (loud) minority yell about their information being available at their county Website, Intelius, etc.

We need to remember that our criminal records, our addresses and our names are true and public pieces of information. They don't belong to us, and they're not legally classified as "private" or "personal". They're not the pieces of information valuable in perpetrating identity theft, and in fact, monitoring and understanding your public records profile can be helpful in preventing identity theft.

Thanks for the post. Also, Intelius has a blog at blog.intelius.com you might find interesting -- founders and execs of the company comment on all sorts of issues from privacy to public info and online dating. Your comments and insight are welcome there!

Jodie said...

I know that my information is available via other search engines, town hall and probably other places. For a long time, I didn't register to vote in the town I live in now to avoid my address being public.

My issue with this is that it makes the process of finding someone's address much easier. I think that you should have to go through a couple of hoops before you find someone's information like that, such as finding a more obscure search engine or actually going to town hall. Sure, people who really really want that information can find it, but most people won't make the effort.

In my job, I sometimes end up working with people who may use my address for inappropriatly (and there has been at least one case of that in my area in the last few years which resulted in a death). Obviously making it harder to find my address won't stop someone who is really determined, but harder to find addresses are a deterrent, and at least give me a better sense of security in my own home (the office is another matter entirely. A client once set themselves on fire in one of our old offices).

Bottom line, 14-year-old clients apt to show up at my door next time they run away if they knew how close I lived don't typically think to go to the town hall to get my address. Zabasearch has every address at which I've ever registered to vote, and they aren't likely to pay for my address with Intelius or the like. So, no, I'm not a fan that makes it clear for free where I currently live without a little work.

eeka said...

Yeah, that was exactly my point; all you have to do now is google "public records" and you'll get plenty of sites that will tell you where most anyone lives. They don't only use voter records either; Zabasearch and the like have addresses and birthdates from car registrations, loans, utilities, etc. A lot more interesting stuff is available too, like mortgage records and property deeds on county websites and assessment info and property tax info on city websites. I can see the logic behind removing all public records from the internet, but not the logic behind attacking Deval Patrick's website when all of this stuff is easily available in so many other places online already.

Anonymous said...

Watch out for Intelius. They are sellers of lots of public information you may not want to release. How do they get it? By using web tracking software and information provided by their partners on the internet. Look yourself up on people search, see how you like it. These people know little about legitimate public records uses and provide preemployment services that violate the FCRA everday.

Anonymous said...

What can a person trying to hide from an abuser do? Not register to vote, not own property . . . but what about driver's license, utility services, banking, and social security? Perhaps a healthy and independently wealthy person can make appropriate arrangements, but how is a poor person who uses social and medical services supposed to disappear?

eeka said...

To both anonymouses:

Please see the comment policy in my sidebar. I'm not deleting these comments because they're intelligent and add to the discussion, but please abide by my comment policy in the future.

First anonymous: Yes, I've looked myself up. I don't mind that my information is public. The other side of the debate is valid, yes, but you don't make your point by putting it back on me as you have.

Second anonymous: The Secretary of the Commonwealth administers an address confidentiality program, which provides a substitute address for someone to use to avoid being found. The service is absolutely free and can be accessed by anyone who can have a human services professional validate that s/he needs the service for protection. Here is the contact information:

Regardless of what's on the internet, you should encourage anyone who needs protection to use this service. Even before there was an internet, anyone could walk into a city/town hall and look at voter records and census records anonymously, or walk into the registry of deeds and search the records anonymously. It's not hard to find someone if you're determined. Sure, pulling these things down from the internet will stop a lot of prank calls and other annoyances, but it's not going to stop someone who's looking to kill someone. Please, encourage people to use the address confidentiality program if they're concerned about being found.

Public Records said...

Very Nice Topic on Public Records, Gives me Ideas and Insights, and learn some on these comments too