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Abridged from NALTEA President Denounces The Bulk Sale of the Public Record To learn more about Source of Title’s exclusive coverage visit www.sourceoftitle.com

Wanda Steudel, the president of the National Association of Land Title Examiners and Abstractors, testified on June 28, 2006 in opposition of House Bill 5124 before the Michigan House of Representatives’ Committee of Local Government and Urban Policy. Steudel denounced the bill because its language supported the bulk sale and distribution of information contained in the public record. Patrick Scott, a NALTEA board member and the chairperson for the Public Relations Committee, was also present at the committee hearing.

HB 5124 would have required the register of deeds to provide the bulk copies of the recorded instruments within five business days of the date they are made available to the public. The bill also would have established that the bulk copies would be provided in the medium specified by the bulk purchaser as long as the county used that medium to record instruments for the public.

Steudel said that she was present at the committee hearing to clarify the questions and misconceptions that exist surrounding the online publication and bulk sale of Public Records." We (members of NALTEA) respectfully disagree with those in our land title industry who claim to speak on, or for, the whole of our industry,” she said. “We oppose the indiscriminant practice of online images and the online sale of these images. These records have always been available to the public and were a minimal threat to privacy in large part because they were housed in city halls, courthouses and other court facilities around the county.”
 

Steudel said that when these same records were placed online and made available for bulk sale and sold at drastically reduced rates, they fell into the hands of the data-brokerage industry and began to threaten the lives of the everyday citizen. She said this placed a valuable asset in the hands of those who could use them for illegitimate purposes.

“Most records that are duplicated and sold in bulk end up in foreign countries,” Steudel added. “When a company buys bulk copies, they are sent to India, the Philippines or other locations for indexing. These foreign agencies keep copies of these images and in turn sell them to other countries and data miners.”

She also noted that the companies who most often take advantage of the availability of the bulk record are the larger companies that already have established companies overseas. These companies not only use the overseas companies to index the records, but to research U.S. properties, process title searches and provide services to the end-consumer.

“The large title companies feel that they are entitled to a discounted fee because they are buying in bulk,” said Steudel. “While the smaller companies and independent researchers who cannot afford to buy bulk records will be paying the established statutory fees, typically, $1 per page. They also state that the inability to not buy in bulk is restricting free enterprise and will cause increases in fees to their customers. When, in fact, this action would cause many of the smaller companies and independent abstractors to go out of business because they will not be able to compete.”

Steudel also remarked that the loss of revenue to the counties would be detrimental and, most importantly, the citizens of the counties would lose control of their personal information all while the bulk purchaser reaped in additional profits from the guidelines established in HB 5124.

“The only entities that will win (if this is approved) are the large data-mining companies, identity thieves and terrorists,” Steudel concluded.

Representative David Robertson expressed that Steudel seemed to be most concerned that the bill would inhibit smaller companies from remaining competitive and that competition is the backbone of the capitalistic society. Steudel responded by saying that it would indeed hurt smaller companies and independent abstractors, but that the greater concerns lies in the fact that the legislation would continue to allow for the publication and sale of peoples’ sensitive information.

Ginny McLaren, the register of deeds for Tuscola County, and Lori Wilson, the register of deeds for Montcalm County and also the president of the Michigan Association of Registers presented their reasons of opposition to the bill.

They said that the bill would negatively impact the contracts that they establish with title companies and would also hurt their counties because the funding from copy costs would be diminished. Several of the representatives asked what role the copy costs play in funding county offices and both registers concurred that monies collected from copy costs are redirected into the county’s general fund. These guidelines were established by former legislators at the state level and could not be changed on the county level.

McLaren noted that every county in the United States is mandated to protect the records of county constituents and the bulk transfer of these records seems to be a violation of that mandate.

“These companies are trying to strong-arm us and you,” she added. “They are only doing this to improve their profits.”

Another county register, Bernard Youngblood of Wayne County, the largest county in Michigan then spoke in opposition of the bill. He charged the companies with creating this legislation as an attempt to restrict the power the registers have over their own county’s records.

Tom Hickson of the Michigan Association of Counties and Paula Johnson, the Ingham County Register of Deeds, both spoke in opposition to the bill. They both agreed that the current version of the bill was improved over the original, but that additional compromise would be needed before any further action was taken.

Jerome Jelinek, the president of the Michigan Land Title Association, and Robert Meredith, the president-elect of the MILTA, spoke in support of the bill, saying that the mandates it set would better protect title agents from the expenses incurred at the county offices.

Following the testimonies,
Representative John Stakoe said that based upon the concerns expressed by those in attendance, additional changes were needed in the bill before a vote would be taken. He expressed gratitude to those who expressed their opinions and adjourned the session.

  

 

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