David Bloys - Stalking the Stalkers
Are the private lives of American citizens a commodity for sale?
Some companies and government agencies seem to think so.
The intent of the legislators who wrote the State Open Records Acts and Federal Freedom of Information Act was to provide the citizens with reasonable access to their publicly held records.
When the state open records acts were written Identity thieves were rummaging through trash bins and stealing wallets for the information they needed. Stalkers risked detection when they tried to find their victims and terrorism was something tragic that was happening in Ireland. The Internet was beyond anyone’s imagination.
Look what has happened since . . .
1989 - Robert Bardo arrived at dawn outside Rebecca Schaeffer’s home. When she came to the door he killed her with one shot to the chest and walked away. Bardo wasn’t the first stalker to find his victim’s home address in the digitized public record. Seven years earlier Arthur Jackson stabbed actress Theresa Saldana ten times after finding her address through the California DMV.
2003 - A federal judge cited first amendment rights when he upheld William Sheehan’s right to publish the information he found in the digital public record on his web site listing the names, home addresses, phone numbers, birth dates, social security numbers, names of family members and other private information of police officers in Washington State.
2003 - The FTC reported 9.91 million victims of identity theft in the previous 12 months resulting in losses to businesses and financial institutions totaling $47.6 billion. A separate survey of the same year by Privacy & American Business found that while most victims had no idea where the thieves obtained their information 4% knew their information had been taken from the public record.
An al Queda training manual found in Afghanistan instructs trainees, "Using public sources openly and without resorting to illegal means, it is possible to gather at least 80 percent of all information required about the enemy.” 19 foreign terrorists known to have been involved in the 911 attacks were found to be in possession of over 50 fraudulent drivers licenses obtained from five different states.
December 2005 Search Systems, a directory of online public record sites claims to have 22,706 Searchable Public Record Databases offering the documented lives of all Americans.
Today stalkers find the home addresses of their victims at the click of a mouse. Identity thieves search billions of public documents online to download millions of names, social security numbers, and home addresses. Nigerian Scam Schools hold classes to teach their students the easy way to steal your identity online. The well-trained modern day terrorist uses our online public records to seek out soft targets like high pressure gas lines, bridges and political, economic and religious leaders.
You might think that technology is to blame, but it isn’t. Technology only made it practical for anyone to buy the public record in bulk. Technology provided the means to condense whole collections of private, sensitive and confidential documents into a single hard drive or a few computer disks. In digital form millions of documents are carried off in a briefcase or silently transmitted electronically to anywhere in the world for less than the price truckload of wheat. Is it any wonder bulk purchasers of public documents see the public record as a commodity to be sold in the world market? But the documents are not grains of wheat. They are the individual records of private individuals placed in the public trust of the community. The records were not placed into the public trust to be sold and resold in bulk like shipments of wheat to India, or Afghanistan.