Candidates Duel Over Online Records
News for Public Officials
In a time of rampant identity theft, what candidates
are telling voters about themselves may be less important to voters than
what incumbents are telling the rest of the world about you.
Rowan County Republican candidate Sally Antosek
doesn't dispute the County Website's popularity with people outside the
jurisdiction, but she sees little benefit to the citizens of Rowan County.
Antosek, 47, carries a ream of documents downloaded
from county Websites across the state, including Rowan. The documents are
filled with personal information ready made for identity thieves, stalkers,
even terrorists. At public meetings she shows voters what Earnhardt is
telling the world about them.
County and state Websites have become key issues as
political candidates vie for control over the documented lives of their
constituents. Many incumbents are scrambling to explain why they published
their constituents private information over the Internet.
In Rowan County, North Carolina, Democratic incumbent
Bobbie Earnhardt, who is seeking her fourth term as Registrar of
Deeds, says her Website is very popular with lawyers, bankers and the
The Registrar's Website may be just as popular
with criminals worldwide. Earnhardt denies that criminals might use her
Website to gather sensitive information about local residents, but criminals
around the world tell a different story.
That's what Arizona's Maricopa County residents
learned last year.While Maricopa County Officials were denying that
criminals were using the County Website, a 23-year-old methamphetamine
user was showing Scottsdale officers how he used the site to steal
Maricopa County was the first to publish real property
records over the Internet. Today, Federal Trade Commission records show
Maricopa county with the highest incidence of identity theft in the country.
In an article called
How Criminals Use Online County Records, News for Public Officials
documented cases in seven states where criminals have used state and county
websites to gather the information they needed on their victims.
Antosek told reporters with the Salisbury Post, "This
stuff doesn't need to be on the Internet. If elected, I'll pull the plug on
the Web site, no ifs, ands, or buts about it."
North Carolina records researcher Jan Forster agrees.
She has found Social Security numbers of leading citizens posted on county
Websites throughout the country. Forster, a paralegal, offers free help to
potential victims of County Websites.
Forster's research into the Rowan County Website
Social Security numbers for a list of
residents that reads like a Who's Who of the County. The Website exposes the
private information of prominent lawyers, doctors, school board members, and
their families to identity thieves all over the world.
The list doesn't stop with just the prominent
citizens. Anyone who has ever bought property in Rowan County is at risk.
"I just want to make a difference," says Forster, who
had never before been involved in a grass-roots movement. "In good
conscience, I can't watch this happen to people."
In neighboring Cabarrus County she discovered the
Social Security numbers of every judge in the county except one visible on
the County Website.
Police officers say Mecklenburg (NC) County's Website
may put them in danger, and the department wants the county to remove their
documents. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Chief Darrel Stephens said that in
one case, a police officer received a veiled threat. Police believe the
person got information about the officer from county real estate records,
When Judges In Allegheny County, Pennsylvania found
their home addresses and other sensitive information on the Alleghany
Website they demanded the county remove their information immediately. Over
100 judges signed the petition citing the recent murder of a Federal Judge's
family in their Chicago home.
Earnhardt, 58, told reporters she "would be hung" if
she shut down the Website." She didn't say who would do the
hanging but certainly it wouldn't be the citizens whose sensitive
information she puts at risk.
Earnhardt cites General Statutes that make it a
violation of the law to alter documents, but their is no statute that
mandates county government publish the document images over the Internet.
When Forster questioned Sherri Richard, Craven County
Registrar (NC), about her policy of publishing sensitive information online,
Richard said that it is a 'business tool and management decision'.
"I find her comments not only cavalier but in direct
conflict with her vow to guard and protect Public Records when elected",
"This opens the door to people who prey on the
elderly. This opens the door to money laundering by terrorists," said
Antosek, adding that Earnhardt's "lackadaisical attitude infuriates me."
Miraculous disappearing documents
Among the records Antosek has displayed at the county
fair and other gatherings is a a document with her Social Security number.
Antosek said the document quickly disappeared from the Rowan Register of
Deeds Web site. "It's a miracle, the entire deed disappeared, I didn't ask
Similar reports of documents miraculously disappearing
have turned up all across the country.
isdemeanor charges against Dianne Hall Wilson
can be seen on the index but the documents cannot be viewed on Wilson's
Earnhardt maintains that her Website complies
with state law and operates under an agreement with the Rowan County Board
But according to an article from the Salisbury Post,
dated October 19, "the Board voted to shut down the Rowan
County Register of Deeds' Web site until further notice. Earnhardt
stubbornly refused to comply with the boards decision.
"They are not taking them off," Earnhardt told the
Post, vowing to take whatever action is necessary.
Antosek is raising several issues about the Register
of Deeds office and how Earnhardt conducts business.
"Who does she answer to? She doesn't answer to anyone, she has a great deal
of latitude," Antosek said. She also pledges to get other counties to pull
the plug on their Web sites and protect information. "A lot of change needs
to take place statewide," Antosek said.
The public is speaking, but are incumbents
Earnhardt and hundreds of County Registrars
across the country will answer to the local voters in the coming election.
The voters are never pleased with having their private documents served to
the world through the County Website
Rowan County resident Daniel Patterson says Eernhardt
has more to fear from the voters than from outside lawyers and bankers. He
is calling for local voters to defeat Earnhardt at the polls. He didn't take
this stand lightly. Patterson is asking local voters to examine Earnhart's
Patterson said, "The only stand we are taking is
against Ms. Bobby Earnhardt for re-election as Register of Deeds".
Citizens across the country have consistently reacted
with outrage when confronted with this breach of the public trust by elected
officials. A recent Miami Herald Poll found 87% of respondents demanding the
documents be immediately removed from the Internet. Increasingly citizens
across the country are resorting to filing lawsuits
to hold the County and their vendor
partners responsible for what they tell the world on the County
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