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Government Agencies, Foreign Companies Collide Over Online Records Issue
We searched the Internet to gather testimony and motives from those in favor and those against exporting our most valuable asset, the Public Records of the American people. Not surprisingly taxpayers fall on the side of those who want the records kept at the Courthouse where they were filed.
Decide for yourself the motivation of those who want the records published on the Internet.
On one side, data brokers, foreign data miners, terrorists, stalkers, identity thieves, some journalists and some county officials claim they have a right to see your information sold in bulk and broadcast to the world . On the other side, many law enforcement agencies, judges, security experts, legislators, journalists and crime victims are speaking up to warn citizens and government officials to keep it at home.
Who Wants to Broadcast Your Data?
Who Wants to Keep It At The Courthouse
Social Security #s? "That's not a private piece of information."
Dianne Wilson, Fort Bend County Clerk, Texas.
In emailed comments, Wilson rejected the United States CCJ/COSCA Guidelines for Public Access to Court Records "There is no good reason why the information should be public for walk in customer but be off limits to web- based customers"
Speaking for "our state standards committee on judicial Information reviewed your proposed policy. We agreed to an equal access for all customers." Thus rejecting Sec 4.50 which might have prevented her from publishing social security numbers, financial and medical information of her constituents to the World Wide Web.
In an interview with B.J. Pollack, Fort Bend Herald, Wilson said she writes "most of the legislation for county clerks in Texas."
Wilson said medical data is not made public through her office, and when told about medical information belonging to one of her own family members, found on the county clerk's Web site, she had no response.
Wilson said she has no apologies for her decision to make the records available via the World Wide Web.
Anyone who doesn't agree with her bulk sale or electronic posting of Public Records that contain private information, Wilson said, is "missing the point."
Wilson said records she has already sold in bulk form are "out of my control. Once I sell it to the public, it's in the public domain."
In an email to News for Public Officials concerning her recent bulk sale of twenty million county records for "about $2000", she wrote, "I guess we gain in one area and lose in others". The loss to the county might be calculated at twenty million dollars. Wilson didn't say how the taxpayers might have "gained" from this or any of the bulk sales she told the Fort Bend Herald she makes every day.
"The Internet is a fantastic tool to get information to the public," she insisted. The terrorists, stalkers, identity thieves and foreign agents quoted in this column seem to agree. Some of them may be her Internet "customers".
For more information on the Texas County Clerk who writes Texas legislation while publishing the sensitive information of her constituents in 20 million documents see:
SmartMoney.com's Meet the Stalkers list Your Social Security Number is just a click away
When Government Officials Aren't What They Seem Wilson's problems with her own credentials
Courthouse for Sale – Cheap!
167 Years to create, ten years to package – carted away in less than a week.
The Lives of Three Citizens
Shows what information is published on the Clerk's Website.
Cyberspace records - More secure options were available
Change in records policy can curb risk - As custodian of these records for those citizens, she has betrayed them
Class action suits have been filed from Alaska to Ohio against state and county governments who publish the community records online. If you feel your security may have been compromised, click here for legal help and a free evaluation of your possible case An attorney will evaluate your case. You are under no obligation to accept legal representation from the lawyer that reviews your case. Lawyers are usually paid out of the proceeds of the settlement or verdict rendered.
the people shall be secure in their persons, houses, papers and possessions, from all unreasonable seizures or searches.” Texas Constitution, 1835
Making Public Records easily accessible to the public is one thing; making records that include sensitive information available to the world without any forethought is an outrage. Bob Haenel, Fort Bend Herald
From the cop's point of view, that's bad news and a lot more work for us," added Ricky Campbell, Houston Police Department. Campbell is with HPD's financial crimes unit and knows the potential for problems with ID theft.
"We don't need that happening out here, and she can stop it, " Precinct 1, Place 2 Justice of the Peace Gary Geick, Fort Bent County, Texas.
"As custodian of these records for those citizens, she has betrayed them". Bob Haenel, Fort Bend Herald
"Plainly there is a vast difference between the Public Records that might be found after a diligent search of courthouse files, county archives, and local police stations throughout the country and a computerized summary located in a single clearinghouse of information.” U.S. Supreme Court
"Officers may wish to work with local officials to review the security implications of infrastructure content posted on websites and to urge the removal of any information from public access which could be potentially misused." U.S. Coast Guard
"infrastructure-related data is being accessed through the Internet from sites around the world." National Infrastructure Protection Center
"If someone wants to steal your identity, the thief usually needs only four pieces of information. Your full name. Your address. Your date of birth. And your Social Security number. Who is the biggest collector of this information? Why, the government, of course." A good idea could lead to identity theft , Fort Worth Star Telegram.
"We believe there is no legitimate reason for someone to be trafficking in credit card and other personal financial data.“ This includes credit card and social security numbers, personal financial information or customer profile data." Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott
"Personally identifying information is easy to sell because there are no laws against selling it. If we're serious about making it harder to sell, we need to make it illegal to sell. It really is that simple." Bruce Schneier, internationally renowned security technologist in interview with Government Technology Magazine
“The most effective method for protecting against such attacks is also the simplest -- disconnect databases containing sensitive information from the Internet. Systems like that should not have Internet access, period”. Bryan Sartin, director of technology for Ubizen, a unit of Cybertrust Inc. of Herndon, Va. Wall Street Journal
John Dozier, a lawyer at Dozier Internet Law PC in Glen Allen, says deed documents include all the information a criminal would need to steal someone’s identity.
Putting deeds online is "a horribly risky approach," Dozier said. "It certainly is the antithesis of consumer protection."
Public Records are a tool criminals use, too, — not just people who would want to do financial harm, but ex-spouses and lovers.
According to the Texas Attorney General, an identity thief may use others' information to obtain new credit cards, open checking accounts, get a bogus driver's license or Social Security card, make long distance calls, apply for a job or make purchases using others' bank account or credit card.
Port Arthur News - ID thieves steal lives
Virginia Watchdog - B.J. Ostergrem
"Using public sources openly and without resorting to illegal means, it is possible to gather at least 80 percent of all information required about the enemy." Al Qaeda Training Manual recovered in Afghanistan
Terrorists use downloaded information from American "public" record to:
Develop soft targets such as transportation facilities, nuclear power plants, public buildings, airports, and ports, and even about counterterrorism measures. School plans and bus routes
Find personal information and identifiers of government officials, U.S. citizens and their families.
Personal identifiers used to assume the identities of American Citizens
Launder money, set up sleeper cells, or support smuggling operations in residential communities anywhere in the state. . . .
Additionally, Al Queda hackers have hi-jacked "secure" government Web sites to broadcast broadcast propaganda including the beheadings of American citizens.
"Why in the world have we been so stupid as a country to have all this information in the public domain? Does that openness still make sense? It sure as hell doesn't to me."
John M. Derrick Jr., chairman of the board of Pepco Holdings Inc., which provides power to 1.8 million customers.
"the hijackers of 9/11 used the Internet, and "used it well." Ronald Dick, assistant director of the FBI and head of the United States National Infrastructure Protection Center (NIPC), told reporters that
"Al-Qa'ida members may be using municipal and state websites in the U. S. to obtain information on local energy infrastructures, water reservoirs, dams, highly-enriched uranium storage sites, nuclear and gas facilities, and emergency fire and rescue response procedures."
"Terrorists, for instance, can learn from the Internet a wide variety of details about targets such as transportation facilities, nuclear power plants, public buildings, airports, and ports, and even about counterterrorism measures." United States Institute of Peace Special Report # 116
Dan Verton, in his book Black Ice: The Invisible Threat of Cyberterrorism (2003), explains that "al-Qaeda cells now operate with the assistance of large databases containing details of potential targets in the U.S."
"Federal law enforcement authorities notified school districts in six states last month that a computer disc found in Iraq contained photos, floor plans and other information about their schools, two U.S. officials said Thursday."
"The bandwidth-intensive Paul Johnson beheading video is first uploaded for display on al Qaeda-sympathetic sites worldwide on the hijacked server of a legitimate California geographic information company".
"I do not believe you have a right to be anonymous in a free society, "
ChoicePoint CEO Derek Smith.
"With ChoicePoint Online's powerful search capabilities, you can easily search more than 14 billion records on individuals and businesses." ChoicePoint Web Site.
We access a variety of different Public Records sources from our data partners. . . courthouses, county and other government offices. No one is notified that you are using the Intelius services, including the person you are searching for." Intelus.com Instant Nationwide Public Records.
"ZabaSearch quickly accesses public information and displays what is available in the public domain." personal information in the U.S. is a multibillion-dollar-a-year industry. We're responsible enough to handle this powerful tool, but we don't think everyone else is."
Nick Matzorkis and Robert Zakari, Founders of ZabaSearch, in interview with Wired News
"I'm going to have to watch my back for the rest of my life," Mary Chapman, victim upon learning her name, address, and social security number had been inappropriately viewed in the ChoicePoint spill.
There's something weirdly insidious about the many-tentacled ChoicePoint. Last April, while the company's response to the data breach was being investigated by California Atty. Gen. Bill Lockyer, it won a contract worth $845,500 to design a databank for California law enforcement agencies from...Atty. Gen. Bill Lockyer.
"My opinion is that the potential negative aspects of this far outweigh any benefit. I'm not OK with it at all, and I think people need to tell their members of Congress." Stuart J. Dunnings III, Ingham County Prosecutor, Michigan.
But all the sites have disclaimers to cover any legal action against them. They say they get their data from public record ,they don't claim responsibility for any loss or damages, and they say the information is not guaranteed correct. Your Personal Information Available Online WLNS Michigan
"Before, few people had really known about all of the information that ChoicePoint and its brethren amass, from driving records and property deeds to lists of relatives and job history for nearly every adult in the United States". CSO Onliine - The Resource for Security Executives.
In 2005 a Nigerian identity theft ring used fifty bogus Choicepoint accounts to steal the identities of at least a half million Americans.
Foreign Data Miners
“Access the most complete of its type available anywhere on the net. It contains information on nearly 200 million people in the US. The content has been developed from information contained in phone directories, DMV records, voter registrations, and many other public files.” Public-Record-Searches.com , Bangalore, India
The business process outsourcing (BPO) industry —has in the last one year become a critical factor for the 5,000-odd BPOs whose collective revenue is estimated at $ 5.8 billion annually. Business Standard, New Delhi India
"As one of the largest data entry and data conversion organizations in India, we process 1 million documents on a monthly basis. We currently perform 25,000 searches a month in 400 (U.S.) counties. Our Unique Selling Point is a local office in USA (Maryland) and Offshore hub in India, Philippines and China." Infinity International Processing,
"It is hard to conceive of a broader invasion of privacy than freely disseminating the information to the entire world and rendering it instantaneously accessible to all."
Judge Robert H. Alsdorf, KING COUNTY SUPERIOR COURT, Washington. MEMORANDUM RULING
"In 2001, Indian workers at Ohio-based Heartland Information Services, threatened to release confidential medical records online unless they received a cash payment from the company. In 2003, a Pakistani medical transcriber, subcontracting with the University of California at San Francisco (UCSF) medical center, threatened to do the same." United States Rep. Edward J. Markey. OUTSOURCING PRIVACY:
"The information included names, addresses, telephone numbers, birth details, Medicare numbers, driver's license numbers, ATM card numbers and even passport information. "
"I found an internet site to do that, and to my surprize (sp) everything else under the Sun. Most importantly: her current employment. It's accually obsene (sp) what you can find out about a person on the internet.
Liam Youens last entry on his web site before he used this information to find and murder Amy Boyer. "
Amy was by no means the first person to be stalked on the Internet. A recent report from the US Attorney General's Office noted that "there may be potentially tens or even hundreds of thousands of victims of recent cyberstalking incidents in the United States." None, though, touched the kind of nerve, or sparked the kind of controversy, that the Amy Boyer case has.Murder.com The Boston Phoenix
But even if all legitimate information brokers were to appropriately and effectively secure the data in their electronic warehouses, the flow of information would continue. Criminals and others will just access, and in many cases continue to access, databases from the government and private sector to find the personal information they need for their crimes. Testimony of Robert Douglas CEO, PrivacyToday.com Before the United State Senate Committee on the Judiciary
INVASION OF PRIVACY – Part 1 World Net Daily
In digital age, information can be a matter of life and death
Amy Boyer was being tracked. The beautiful young girl was soon to graduate from college. Not yet 21 . . Whether you realize it or not, you are being tracked, just as Amy Boyer was, and it can cost you time, money, freedom – even your life.
. . . Two days after her death made the news in New England, the thieves, who had gotten her Social Security number, were able to assume her identity. They managed to spend $5,000 by using checks in her name.
"We got the information we needed from the County Site" Unidentified identity theft suspects, Hamilton County Ohio.
Lee County Sheriff's Office spokesman Angelo Vaughn said "the Internet is playing an increasing role in identity theft cases"
Chad Hatten, 35, Houston, Texas, pled guilty to belonging to the Shadowcrew, an international criminal organization with numerous members that promoted and facilitated a wide variety of criminal activities and maintained a Web Site where members could traffic in stolen identities.
"In many cases, criminals in prison are teaching one another how to use the Internet, manipulate personal data and create counterfeit checks and driver's licenses, law enforcement experts said. Prison rehabilitation programs that emphasize computers are further reinforcing their skills, "said Detective Jim Hudson of the Placer County Sheriff's Department.
"Want drive fast cars?" asks an advertisement, in broken English, atop the Web site iaaca.com. "Want live in premium hotels? Want own beautiful girls? It's possible with dumps from Zo0mer." A "dump," in the blunt vernacular of a relentlessly flourishing online black market" NY Times Article
"Social Security cards run about $20, green cards about $70 and a California driver's license between $60 and $250. The price jumps up for higher-quality documents, such as IDs with magnetic strips containing real information - often from victims of identity theft."
"She could get a little information out of the mail and use public search engines to get the rest she needed," Detective Fleming said. Denton police allege elaborate ID theft, fraud scam
County Rife with Identity Theft Reconsiders Online Records "In 1997, Arizona’s Maricopa County (which includes Phoenix) became the first government entity in the nation to post Public Records online. But it has come back to bite the county in a most unpleasant way: Maricopa now claims the highest rate of identity theft in the nation, and local IT officials say the two statistics are inextricably linked".
"We have had a number of cases where police have told me the bad guys got the information used to steal identities from my Web site." Hamilton County Clerk of Courts Greg Hartmann - Cincinnati Post
Sen. Charles J. Fuschillo Jr., who heads the Senate Consumer Protection Committee and has authored legislation to protect consumers from identity theft, called on the county clerk's office Wednesday to remove the information from the Internet.
District Attorney Thomas Spota expressed dismay over the material being made public. "It's not only disheartening, it's crazy," Newsday.com
"You don’t get ten million identity theft victims and fifty-plus billion dollars in losses to identity theft related financial fraud from dumpster divers." Testimony of Robert Douglas
CEO, PrivacyToday.com Before the United State Senate Committee on the Judiciary Hearing on Securing Electronic Personal Data: Striking a Balance Between Privacy and Commercial and Governmental Use.
"Crime is now organized on the Internet. Operating in the anonymity of cyberspace, the Shadowcrew and Web mobs like it threaten the trust companies have spent years trying to build with customers, online"
Shadowcrew: Web Mobs BaseLine Magazine
"In Pennsylvania and around the nation, people who have never been in trouble with the law end up with criminal records after identity thieves use their personal information when they are arrested". Philadelphia Inquirer
“The Internet has dramatically altered the potential occurrence and impact of identity theft. First,the Internet provides access to identifying information through both illicit and legal means. The global publication of identifying details that previously were available only to a select few increases the potential for misuse of that information" GAO Report
"The Internet is making more and more data available to the nasty folks," said Matt Bishop, a professor of computer science at the University of California, Davis.
" Investigators checked Utah state records and found that approximately 1,800 social security numbers, belonging to children under of 13, may have been compromised."
Drug Dealers and Gangs
"If you are still making money selling drugs, you are an informant or about to be busted. Mortgage fraud is the thing to do now," said convicted identity thief Christopher Scott in a prison interview.
Drug-dealing gangs, including Chicago's Black Disciples, have adopted the financial crime, the Tribune found. Mortgage swindling helped that gang solidify its control over street corners, launder money and gain safe houses to launch operations.
Reputed gang leader Marvel Thompson controlled real estate as well as drugs. What was his secret weapon? Mortgage fraud. Over the course of a decade, Thompson used straw buyers, sham sales and phony identities to secure more than $1 million in mortgage loans that went unpaid, records and interviews show. Scams build gang empire
"It's just so easy," he said in a tone more matter-of-fact than boastful. "I could have made a million dollars a year easily.." Ruining my credit was easy, thief says
'No way I knew that was a police officer'"
Stephen Lance Heard said he thought he was being robbed when he fired at Officer Henry "Hank" Nava Jr. "believed the officer walking into the bedroom Monday was a robber wanting to steal identity theft programs and information that I had". . . computer that would incriminate him in attempted identity theft crimes"
"It's easier to rob a man of $30,000 with his Social Security number than put a gun in his face," said Jeff Shelton, assistant agent in charge for the Oklahoma City field office of the Secret Service.
Shelton said loosely knit groups of meth users and cooks gather regularly to swap recipes and new ways to profit from victims' personal information. Most have become extremely computer proficient
"Every day we see identity theft as a method to buy drugs." Mark Woodward, Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs Control
Shelton said about half of all crimes worked by his identity theft task force have a link to drugs. Meth use and identity theft are a good match, he said. The Oklahoman
"There's very low risk with identity theft compared with robbing a bank," Hudson said. "You don't have to use a gun and you don't risk a long prison term."
"There's quite a correlation between I.D. theft and meth makers," Assistant District Attorney Martha McMurry said. "It's one of the ways meth makers get money for materials. It really lowers your overhead if you're not actually paying for the materials." Addicts funding habit with white-collar crime
Police have said that Officer Nava was shot while trying to gather information on Mr. Heard, who was suspected of participating in an identity-theft ring. The Dallas Morning News
"This criminal organization represents one of the largest and most sophisticated document fraud rings ever uncovered -- so much so that it set up franchises in most major U.S. cities and counterfeited dozens of types of documents," said Marcy Forman, who heads investigations for ICE.
"Fraudulent documents can be provided to terrorists and other criminals, posing a major homeland security vulnerability," Marcy Forman, who heads investigations for ICE.