Iowa's Governor Tells Website to Remove
Chet Culver, the governor of Iowa, informed
IowaLandRecords.Org that it should immediately remove private
information from its Website on September 2, 2008 after he learned that
the site had uploaded documents containing Social Security numbers
belonging to him; Michael Mauro, Iowa's Secretary of State; and
his wife, Dorothy.
Yet, according to an article published in The Des Moines Register,
only his information and that of the Secretary of State and his
wife's was removed after the site learned of an article that stated its
site's information could possibly lead to a higher incidence of identity
theft. The information of thousands of other Iowans remains on the site,
which is sponsored by the Iowa County Recorders Association.
The site provides information culled from the state's 99 counties and
includes information from all of those counties' Public Records
databases. One of the greatest pieces of personal information provided
to visitors of the site is the Social Security numbers of countless
residents of the Hawkeye State. The site, which was launched in 2005, is
frequently used by title examiners, mortgage brokers and attorneys who
need access to the records it contains.
In a statement from his office, Culver's spokesman, Troy Price,
intimated that the governor is very concerned about the privacy rights
of Iowans and these concerns are what led him to contact the Website.
"Governor Culver is committed to protecting the privacy of Iowans,
which is why he was disturbed to learn that the Social Security numbers
of several Iowans, including his own, were available to be viewed by the
public on a Website controlled by the Iowa County Recorders
Association," Price said.
One examiner who works in the state indicated that many of the title
professionals she knows tend to rely heavily upon the system. She said
that her company has refrained from relying on the records because of
problems that have allegedly been uncovered by others.
While the site has said that it has yet to implement any of Culver's
suggestions, others are saying that the information it provides its
users has been slightly modified.
"What they have actually done is disabled the imaging," said Jill
Kissell, the manager of A-1 Abstracting and Research of Norwalk.
"You can still do an index search, but our office doesn't rely on the
online information to begin with. I personally feel that there are too
many steps in the process and every additional step you add is just one
more step where a mistake could be made."
Her concern is that if anything is left off the records during the
online process, her office would have no idea of knowing about the
problem unless a claim was filed on a completed search.
She noted that the state mandated that Social Security numbers be
removed from the public record in 2002 and that most tax liens now have
black bars on them where they once provided the Social Security numbers.
But, problems exist with the images that were uploaded prior to 2002 as
many have not had the Social Security numbers redacted from them.
County officials with the recorders association have indicated that
individuals can request that their information be removed. Kissell
remarked that the redaction of information once it has already been
published does little to protect the state's residents. She said that
once the information has been mined, there is no telling who has access
to that sensitive information.
"Obviously this is a very important source of concern," said Phil
Dunshee, one of IowaLandRecords.org's project managers, in response
to the governor's recommendation. "We take it seriously. That's why we
have the policies that we do."
Further investigation into the Website's practices uncovered that
IowaLandRecords.org has been attempting to sell the information on its
site to Data Tree, a leading real estate information database and
considered by many to be a data-mining company.
"Iowa Land Records is a valuable and important resource to the real
estate industry and to the citizens of Iowa," said Joyce Jensen,
the Cass County recorder and the chairwoman of the Iowa Land Records
board. "That value diminishes when information is restricted."
As Source of Title reported last week, the New Jersey
Appellate Division recently ruled that data-mining companies should not
be permitted to buy this information until they have paid the counties
to redact sensitive information, such as Social Security numbers, from
the land records.
The recorders association this year negotiated selling its mammoth
database and ongoing updates to Data Tree, a company that manages more
than 4 billion records nationwide. The Des Moines Register
recently found unsigned documents that show Data Tree would have paid an
estimated $11,750 a month for the information. The newspaper did note
that the unsigned agreement would prohibit Data Tree from disclosing
confidential information to any third party.
Yet, the sale was delayed after state legislators expressed some
concern over the bulk sale of the records to a private business. Kissell
also noted that she is concerned with the idea that the site's
information could be sold to a private company.
She said that this information belongs to residents of the state and
was not collected for this purpose. Adding that many people she talks
with are unaware that their sensitive information is even published on
county Websites, she said this would impair the privacy rights of
countless unsuspecting Iowans.
The monthly funds that the site would receive from Data Tree would
help offset many of the site's costs, Dunshee added. He said that the
bulk format transfer of information would be more beneficial
to companies because they would not be forced to search for information
document by document.
"You've got companies that use this information for credit scores
and other legitimate business purposes," Dunshee said. "These are not
identity thieves we're talking about. They're in the real estate
industry or their customers are in the real estate industry."
"If it's sold, it's gone," said Bill Blue, the president of
the Land Title Association. "You can do all the redacting you want to
your own records and it won't help."