National Land Title Association President Denounces Bulk Sale of Public Records
NALTEA President Denounces The Bulk Sale of the Public Record
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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
“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
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
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.