David Bloys - News for Public Officials
July 7th, 2006
On one side, data brokers, foreign data miners, terrorists, stalkers, identity thieves, some journalists and some county officials claim they have a right to sell your information in bulk and broadcast to the world on the Internet . 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.
In an effort to curb rampant identity theft, law enforcement agencies nationwide are warning citizens to carefully guard papers that contain sensitive information such as financial numbers, medical information, home addresses and signatures.
Other agencies, responsible for collecting and preserving our papers, are distributing these documents over the Internet and selling them in bulk.
Meanwhile, foreign corporations are making millions in the international traffic of documents about private U.S. citizens.The fourth amendment promises that "the right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated." In spite of warnings by law enforcement and the guarantees established by the constitution, entire collections of the papers we entrust to our government are being searched online and seized in bulk by foreign and domestic corporations.
Last April, Texas Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn filed a lawsuit against Attorney General Greg Abbott arguing that State employees' birth dates should not be accessible under the Texas Public Information Act. Strayhorn contends birth dates can be used in identity theft. She filed the lawsuit in response to Abbott's ruling that birth dates must be made public when requested.
This ruling seems to conflict with the advise General Abbott offers in Protect Yourself from Identity Theft, "No matter what a caller or e-mailer tells you, do not give out your Social Security number, driver's license number or other personal information . . ."
A month before the Texas suit, a class action lawsuit was filed against Ohio Secretary of State Ken Blackwell for publishing Social Security numbers and other sensitive information on the states website. Ohio Attorney General Jim Petro said he thinks Blackwell has a legal duty to notify anyone whose number was on the site, and to remove any constitutionally protected information. The documents were pulled from the website two weeks later.
Some states are now worrying about information that has been collected in County Clerks and Register of Deeds offices for decades. The offices keep records related to real estate and property transfers, which frequently include Social Security numbers and financial information, such as bank account numbers, addresses, and authorized signatures.Much more than Social Security numbers at risk.Federal tax liens filed before January 2006 include Social Security numbers as identifiers, and state tax liens still do. Divorce decrees, which are sometimes used to convey property, can include a wide range of information including sensitive information concerning minor children. The land records are strewn with maiden names, driver's license numbers, dates of birth and signatures. In electronic form, the records are ready-made for legal and illegal exploitation.
In spite of demands from citizens wanting to prevent this online intrusion into their security, and efforts of some elected officials to protect their citizens, the records continue to turn up on websites all over the world.For example, after Hamilton County Ohio and the Ohio Secretary of State faced lawsuits from angry citizens who found their information on the official websites, the agencies removed all internet access to the documents from the official sites.
The Ingham County Register of Deeds Office in Michigan stopped making millions of documents available on the County Website amid cries for protection by local citizens, but companies worldwide continue to publish the records online.
Travis County (TX) Clerk Dana DeBeauvoir, reacted to concerns from citizens by pulling all documents from the County Website but promised outside buyers that she would again publish the documents online as soon as she could find a way to remove some of the sensitive information the documents contain.
County Clerk Dianne Wilson reacted to award winning investigative reports from the Fort Bend Herald, a HIPPA audit and the release of her own family's medical information in the probate records by removing probate records. She has obstinately refused the requests of citizens that she also remove millions of sensitive documents contained in the county's online collection of Fort Bend County land records.
Last summer Wilson sold twenty two million records to Florida based RedVision for the unprecedented low rate of just two thousand dollars.. Local taxpayers pay a dollar a page for copies of their own records at the courthouse
Today, the RedVison website offers the records they bought from Fort Bend County and eleven additional counties in Texas stating, "whether you need one or one hundred images to complete your search, all are viewable instantaneously and are included in the price of the report".
The Florida based company shows Travis, Nueces and Harris County records are scheduled to be sold on their website. Records from counties in thirty three states are under development.
RedVision isn't alone in this grab for for county land records. A Google search for LAND RECORDS ONLINE will show over forty million listings and ads. Some examples of companies across the world who actively trade in the records of U.S. citizens and property are: