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Saturday, January 07, 2006

Public records on the internet

Counties that put public records on the internet are just inviting criminal activity. EPIC West (Electronic Privacy Information Center West Coast Office) cites the following report (Public Records A Source for Identity Theft Crimes):

In 1997, Arizon's Maricopa County (which includes Phoenix) became the first government entity in the nation to post public records online [...] But it has come back to bite the county in a most unpleasant way: Maricopa now claims the highest rate of identity theft in the nation, and local IT officials say the two statistics are inextricably linked.

In a related matter, the Champaign County, Illinois, Clerk has a discussion of the decision not to add names to their county real estate tax records that are already on line (Privacy and County Tax Records):

What we don't want is to make this information easily accessible to people who may not have the best purposes in mind. For that reason, requests to search tax information by name must come by phone, in person, or through the mail. From my standpoint, this provides an extra layer of security by forcing requestors to shed at least some of their anonymity.

As far as I know, none of Sangamon County's (where I live) public records have been put on the internet. If they are online, they're not out in the open.

Posted by Marie at January 7, 2006 11:24 PM


Yes, there's a stronger argument for Freedom of Information, I believe, than that for privacy. We need transparency so people behave themselves - rather like the indigenous village situation where everyone sees 'what everyone does.' In our large city living we can all hide away behind walls and computer desktops. I must have been doing that here http://net-detective.blogspot.com as a hopeful player in the Public Records information access market.
Geoff Dodd

Posted by: Geoff Dodd at January 9, 2006 6:13 AM

Geoff, You're making the argument that if our private records, phone calls, credit history, etc., are available to anyone at anytime, we'll behave better? That is a frightening prospect. And, a ridiculous notion.

Here in the United States, most records filed in the counties (court records, real estate transactions, to name but two) are public record. Pretty much everyone who made it through high school knows that. Accessing county records does not require a Freedom of Information request. In fact, a simple phone call to the county is usually all it takes. Keeping those records off the internet just makes it more difficult for people with evil intentions to get to them. I would have thought it was the same in Australia.

Everyday citizens, business owners, politicians, cops, and even criminals, have a reasonable expectation to be secure in the knowledge that their personal details are private.

Posted by: Marie at January 9, 2006 10:08 AM