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How Public Should Public Records Be?

michael posted more than 12 years ago | from the you-too-can-be-a-stalker dept.

Privacy 175

Hobobo writes: "This article on the New York Times talks about whether public records that are available in local government offices should or shouldn't be available online. It also talks about the "practical obscurity" of people checking files in police offices and whatnot, and public records on the internet are "too public," and the privacy and freedom of information issues involved." If you'd like to try it, you can use "Giuliani" and "5/28/44".

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FP (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#2212666)

woo

Re:FP (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#2212687)

looks more like post #2212666 to me (The Devil! Fear the Devil!).

Re:FP (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#2212692)

Looks like the first to me - where are the 2,212,665 posts you think come before it? Attached to different stories, are they? Well, they don't count as the first post on this story, now, do they?

Re:FP (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#2212694)

Why don't you shut the hell up?

Re:FP (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#2212706)

Because I don't want to. Why don't you?

Re:FP (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#2212880)

I enjoy anally raping male goats with my small penis.

fp (-1, Offtopic)

honold (152273) | more than 12 years ago | (#2212667)

fp

fp (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#2212668)

fp!

they should be public (0)

xXgeneric nicknameXx (463142) | more than 12 years ago | (#2212671)

very public...that's why they call them public, right?...ummm...right?

Re:they should be public (3, Insightful)

wackysootroom (243310) | more than 12 years ago | (#2212790)

And just how 'public' should the public library be? Privacy is not really an issue here since the records are available at most libraries and county municipal facilities. Just what are these people trying to prevent? Anyone with half a brain and an ounce of determination can find these records.

I really think that this is an issue of power over the internet, not one of privacy .

A real issue (2, Insightful)

YIAAL (129110) | more than 12 years ago | (#2212673)

This is a real issue. I'm amazed what I can find about people on the Web already. Correlating bits of innocent data can give you a surprisingly complete picture.

There's a big double standard here: the federal judiciary, whose financial records are required to be made public, has consistently refused to make them available on the Internet, or to release them to people who plan to do that. That's no surprise, but it's unfair. Sauce for the goose, and so on.

Re:A real issue (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#2212681)

Yes, and the worst part is, the "innocent data" about a person can be very suggestive, yet very misleading at the same time.

Re:A real issue (2, Informative)

drsoran (979) | more than 12 years ago | (#2212754)

Hell, people around here now are suprised to find that I can show them detailed information about their houses, purchase price, appraised values, floor layout, etc. This isn't some secret page, it's the county auditor's web site. Is it right to publish such previously obscure information? Who knows.. but everyone I talk to is definitely not comfortable with that being online so easily available. Before I believe you'd at least have to show your face to a public records office and pay a fee to request the information. That'd deter almost 99% of the people who are otherwise going around browsing this stuff.

Re:A real issue (2)

Hard_Code (49548) | more than 12 years ago | (#2212847)

The difference is, if it's on the internet, the information can be found out *anonymously*. If some creepy guy comes into a public office and wants to know all about John Smith, and you find John Smith dead the next week, you may be able to trace that person. There is no such (well, very little) thing online.

Re:A real issue (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#2212988)

Yes, yes. but just don't mention this to my county's office, or my next victim, shirley. oh, she is so luscious. yes. mmm. heeehheee, soon i will carry out my plans!

Re:A real issue (1)

Menteb (161089) | more than 12 years ago | (#2212934)

A dangerous game! Spreading that kind of information is bad... I would not like it if my financial records were put online. No I don't have anything to hide *hum* but maybe others do! Be realistic here people!!

Re:A real issue (1)

sllort (442574) | more than 12 years ago | (#2212973)

This is a real issue. I'm amazed what I can find about people on the Web already. Correlating bits of innocent data can give you a surprisingly complete picture.

This is very true. To give a practical example, I looked up this young man [anywho.com] and this gentleman [anywho.com] and found that they shared the same address! Imagine what inferences someone could draw from that.

The Internet brings a whole new level of accessibility to public records - the ability to mine data using scripts and correlate it in a huge database adds a lot of value to information that used to be isolated.

Personally I've spent a year trying to exterminate my personal information from the Net, and I'm far from succeeding.

Personal Data Extermination (2)

YIAAL (129110) | more than 12 years ago | (#2213003)

Exterminating your personal information is probably impossible. It's probably better to generate as dense a fog of contradictory and misleading information about yourself as possible.

Actually, michael, I've heard you can (0, Redundant)

jdavidb (449077) | more than 12 years ago | (#2212674)

Re:Actually, michael, I've heard you can (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#2212683)

This is an example of abuse of public records. How hard is it to register? I've done it two or three times, and NYT has never sent me spam. The Hunger Site on the other hand (or rather "Greater Good," its corporate master) annoyed me so much that I was *almost* glad when it went under.

Re:Actually, michael, I've heard you can (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#2212698)

Who cares what you want? Your personal likes and dislikes over registration are as important as Linux's importance on the desktop. What matters to me is not having to tell the world and its dog my name and address every single time I try to use the Web. I don't expect you to care about this, but please keep your self-centered little opinions to yourself. If you do so, I will be happy to do the same.

Re:Actually, michael, I've heard you can (1)

jdavidb (449077) | more than 12 years ago | (#2212949)

The other guy was redundant; I was first.

WARNING: GOATSE.CX LINK (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#2212995)

The above post is a disguised link to goatse.cx! only some of the letters lead to it, in an attempt to hide the fact that this is a goatse.cx link! Do not click on that, or you will end up here [goatse.cx] !

There are safeguards (2, Informative)

Quila (201335) | more than 12 years ago | (#2212678)

Most public records laws already have measures in place to safeguard personal privacy. Others, as in the article (I read it!) do need some work to account for personal privacy. A good example is, before records were finally given to APB news on judges' finances, personal information such as address, phone, etc., was redacted.


Records being available in the Internet is very important. Check out www.freedomforum.org [freedomforum.org] to see how hard it is often to get public records in person, with demands to know why, see ID and attempted arrests (especially for public police records such as who's currently in jail). Internet access would allow people to get this information without fear of intimidation.

Re:There are safeguards (2)

baptiste (256004) | more than 12 years ago | (#2213042)

Records being available in the Internet is very important.

I agree. Public records are just that - PUBLIC. Lets be realistic people - if someone really wants to know something about you they are going to find out and public records online aren't going to change that. Sure it saves a would be psycho some time, but thats about it. The good thing about these records going online and the CHicken Littel media these days is it'll raise awareness to records that have ALWAYS been public. People need to know what stuff about them is public and what type of opt out programs there are.

News Flash: (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#2212679)

Connie Chung is still as hot as ever!!

Re:News Flash: (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#2212855)

Sometimes I fantasize about Connie while i'm masturbating in bed. Being a geek pretty much leaves me with only my hand to use. So anyways, last night while thinking about Connie and the interview she did with Gary "The Maestro Of Love" Condit I started to masturbate. I kept thinking erotically of Connie Chung licking my asshole while I gave head to Martha Stewart (Ya, i think shes pretty sexy, nice ass on that woman.) Gary Condit would be watching from the closet in secret while this was happening, I like that.

Great Assumption (3, Insightful)

mikeage (119105) | more than 12 years ago | (#2212685)

There's an assumption being made:
"Only you, your family, and your closest friends know your birthday"
I _wish_ I could remember my family members' birthdays (and anniverseries, etc. etc. etc.)!

But seriously... that's there idea of "security"? That's not security through obscurity, that's security through stupidity!

Re:Great Assumption (1)

rvaniwaa (136502) | more than 12 years ago | (#2212745)


"Only you, your family, and your closest friends know your birthday"

Even more so, who else knows your birthday: Stalkers, your ex, everyone at work, ... In many cases, having this information public could be very dangerous...

Re:Great Assumption (1)

ZeroZen (136166) | more than 12 years ago | (#2212783)

My birthday is September 18th.

Why is this dangerous?

Re:Great Assumption (2, Interesting)

mikeage (119105) | more than 12 years ago | (#2212825)

Because if you lived in New York, and registered to vote (and "opting-out" of voting is not cool), I could get your home address. That might not be something you'd want published. Maybe you don't care... but maybe you do. You should have a right not to have that released so easily, without having to refrain from doing your civic duty of voting. What's next... having to "opt-out" of a drivers license? Social security registration? Having a bank account?

Public? (4, Insightful)

bogado (25959) | more than 12 years ago | (#2212690)

If they are realy public, why shouldn't they be on the internet? In fact the site above is indeed an invasion of privacy, but because it is disclosuring the address of people, not because it is disclosiring wheter people are registred voters or not. If the site response were :

Doe, John is a registred voter.

instead of

Doe, john 123 main street republican.

It would disclosure the information that is public and would not be that intrusive.

But there are worst cases, the directory of phone of Rio de Janeiro disclosures not only the address but also the map on how to get there. :-)

you can try : HTTP://www.telelista.com.br/, just lick in the "residancial" and search for josé (a fairly common name in Brasil. Click on the little ball on the left of name and voila you have a map to that person's home. :-/

Re:Public? (3, Interesting)

cyberdonny (46462) | more than 12 years ago | (#2213068)

> But there are worst cases, the directory of phone of Rio de Janeiro disclosures not only the address but also the map on how to get there. :-)

Yeah, but I suppose you can get an unlisted number.

Luxembourgish P&T (national telephone operator, who is now also an ISP) is far worse: even if you had an unlisted number, people could still can find you address on P&T's website! You could opt out of that one too, but you had to know about this page. Moreover, those who opted out would get no personal web hosting space.

Public Records on Internet (3, Insightful)

ryanw (131814) | more than 12 years ago | (#2212693)

I don't know. There is someone at my work place that has been going through a divorce over the past year. She likes having the court records online so she can check it daily to see what is going on and where the paperwork has stopped.

But then again... I wouldn't have known about her divorce she was going through if her name hadn't popped up in a search that few of us were 'jokingly' putting in people's names into search engines seeing what we could "dig up" ...

I not only found her divorce .. I found my sister's traffic tickets (where she actually had to goto court) .. things on my brother.. things on other friends .. etc.. All in the comfort of my own home.

There's something to be said about getting up off your butt and going down to a location to dig up information on someone. When it's all at the tips of EVERYONE's fingertips .. people start pulling information for no reason other than just to see whats out there.

I think it's good to have records available to everyone .. and maybe even having stuff on the internet is good too .. but I think if records are public .. shouldn't there be a record of who has looked at the 'public records'? Isn't that public infomation too ??

People should have to get an ID to get the public records .. that way at least there's a small stepping stone to prying through people's information .. and since the information about ME I should know who looked at my information.

Just a thought ...

Re:Public Records on Internet (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#2212772)

post a link? this I gotta see...

Re:Public Records on Internet (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#2212869)

To prove to a friend of mine how easy it is to find out anything about anyone on the 'net, I did a simple search on Google and Yahoo for her first and last name together in quotes.

I didn't need to try any other combinations of her name to receive hits. What I received was a listing of members of high school track team. Way at the bottom was her name, having placed 69th out of 70 in a meet.

Needless to say, she believes me, even though she wasn't too happy that I found out she's a slow-poke.

John

De-formalizaiton of society (1, Informative)

jrennie (79374) | more than 12 years ago | (#2212983)

We're all afraid of what can happen now that (previously not-so-)public records are easy to access. I don't want people that I meet to be able to discover my entire life's history. Think about the impact this might have on getting a job. "Sorry, you're a great candidate, but we don't want to hire you because we did a public records search and found that you have 17 unpaid Boston parking tickets."

Then again... U.S. society is gradually becoming less and less formal. Many people don't wear suits to work. Many issues which used to be taboo (sex, divorce, drugs) are more openly discussed. But, we're still quick to criticize people who have faults. Could making public information more readily available finally relax this high-view stereotype that we have? We're already progressing in that direction. Clinton wasn't stoned after his affair was publicized. Bush was elected president even though he had a serious drinking problem when he was young.

With public records being easily accessible, we're going to have to get used to everyone having a "history." But, society does change with time. This is just another transition that society needs to go through. Sci-fi writers (e.g. Spielberg/Kubrik in A.I.) try to make us believe that people are static---they don't change with technology. But, they do. Aren't cars, planes and *nuclear missles* a bit more society-altering than a robotic boy? In some ways, this change will be great. It will allow us to discover when people have a seriously dangerous history (e.g. mass murder, millions of $$$ in credit card fraud, etc.). It will also bring our society to accepting things that normal people do (e.g. drinking in college, smoking pot, not paying parking tickets, etc.). We're all human. We make mistakes sometimes. We also occasionally just like to enjoy life and not think too much the future consequences of our actions.

Anyway, making public records easy-to-access may seem like a terrible thing. But, they are public records. If someone *really* wanted to know your birthday & address, they would have been able to find it. Making them easily accessible helps those who don't have the time to search through all of the records. And, it will (hopefully) inject some much needed humanity into our society.

Jason

just a suggestion (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#2212695)

all black people's public records should be published for free. So we can find 'em and lynch 'em!

There is a bill in Congress to make it so: HR-0666

Find out more about this bill on #Linuxwarez (efnet IRC)

A few thoughts (2)

hrieke (126185) | more than 12 years ago | (#2212699)

Back in college I worked for this guy as a PC tech. He had this great idea of building a system which would link all the property to a database that would in turn allow you then to either click on the map and pull up all the records for the parcel of land or type in a name and see all the property that person owned.
Nifty idea back in it's time.
Anyway...
I know that there are companies that go to each court house and scan in all the documents posted in the last year and they sell the data to other companies that use the data to market products or back to cities as an effective storage / archive system. these same companies do the same thing for the states, too.
I think it should be a careful balance between my right to some privacy and the public right to know. Sooner or later all the records will be stored in a digital format. And sooner or later that information will find its way to the net.
Maybe limit the number of times a person can access the records per day? Or maybe give the database office hours (only accessible from 9 to 5)?
Maybe its time for us technically inclined to run for office and put into effect some good ideas?

Re:A few thoughts (1)

PBCODER (513561) | more than 12 years ago | (#2212737)

This has been implemented in our county, http://www.leeclerk.org

Re:A few thoughts (3, Insightful)

milo_Gwalthny (203233) | more than 12 years ago | (#2213006)

A company called Lexis/Nexis has entered, AFAIK, all court records into a huge database. Whenever my firm invests in a company we do a Lexis/Nexis search on the executives as part of our due diligence.

As is usual in these privacy debates, the stable door is open and the horse long gone. The only difference now from 4 years ago is that you had to put up some money to get the info. That means that big companies had access to the data and people didn't. Ever get a credit report on yourself? The first time I did I was astounded how much they knew about me.

The only privacy is complete privacy. If we don't want this information public, then the government shouldn't collect it (I mean, do they really need your address on file to let you vote?)

(On a side note, it actually sort of disturbs me now when I do a Google on somebody and don't get *anything*. I almost believe they don't actually exist.)

Or you could bypass the registration ... (1)

Pentagon13 (166309) | more than 12 years ago | (#2212701)

Replace the 'www' in the address with 'archive' and voila

http://www.nytimes.com/2001/08/24/nyregion/24VOTE. html [nytimes.com]
becomes:
http://archive.nytimes.com/2001/08/24/nyregion/24V OTE.html [nytimes.com] (watch the spaces if you copy/paste)

Re:Or you could bypass the registration ... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#2213082)

dude, they used to do that but they got into trouble..

Raises an interesting point... (1)

chrome koran (177357) | more than 12 years ago | (#2212704)

"We're equating ease of access with privacy, and to me they're two different animals. Either a record is private or it's not."

While I am irked that they are making it too easy to get at some of this personal data, the guy has an interesting point. The real problem here isn't online accessibility -- it's accessibility by anyone. The "practical obscurity" notion has some merit, but IMHO, I am rather miffed to find out that some of this information is available to any bozo who strolls down to a county records office with a few crumbs of data about me to begin with.

What makes us think it's a good idea to allow access to things like the names of crime victims anyway? Anybody who throws my voter registration info in a database with nothing but my name and birthdate to protect it is getting sued. This kind of thing should be opt-in only!

Accountability (1)

steeljaw (65872) | more than 12 years ago | (#2212710)

Sure being public means that anyone in the public has a right to view these things, but that's not to say that they need not be accountable for it.. In other words, I don't want random people looking at my shit. And if people do look at my shit, I want to be able to get a list of names, so I can look at their shit.. This can be easily avoided on the net, just create an account and look... I don't have anything to hide, but I value my privacy...

Re:Accountability (2)

well_jung (462688) | more than 12 years ago | (#2212956)

We all value our privacy. However, most of this information is not private. I'm sorry that most of you didn't realize that until now, but that's the Reality.


Now, if you don't like it, tell your Mayor/Councilman/StateRep/Governor/Congressman/Sen ator/President. Tell your local newspaper. Tell the local TV station. This story has sensationalism potential they'd eat up.

It's about people, not records (2)

hyrdra (260687) | more than 12 years ago | (#2212712)

Since when is it news that you can get property records online?

For my state (Ohio), and county (Franklin), I can get full property record information, including sale price, all inspection history, even the layout by knowing just the address. This service has been available for years now and is available for countless other counties in Ohio and the same in many other states.

The only thing you can't do right now is get someones criminal record (although it is available for anyone about anyone for a fee). In addition, there are many states which have been putting court transcripts online for awhile now. So this isn't news -- it's just the privacy people drumming up more emotion.

For the most part I don't think people should worry the slightest. Actual stalkers who want someone's information and are determined to actually do *something* don't care about convience. They'll go dig through a file cabnet for their x-wife's name and address just as they would look it up online. It saves them some work, but that wasn't their goal in the first place.

In addition, most important people and celebrities have known addresses. They show their homes off on TV and magazines. So I doubt they care about that.

That article presents a pretty pathetic argument. These are public records, and there are all kinds of positive uses. Public records will always be abused, and putting them on the Internet isn't going to stop nor increase that abuse (due to the nature and type of people who do such abuse).

Ooops! (3, Funny)

Pete (big-pete) (253496) | more than 12 years ago | (#2212714)


I just went to the site (http://www.registeredtovoteornot.com [registered...eornot.com] ) and in the section entitled "What others are saying:" was the following...

JANE B, on 60 STREET says, "Please remove my name (Jane S. Brody, Woodside, dob 7/4/47) from your site IMMEDIATELY (i.e., this morning, Friday, August 24). AND PLEASE DO NOT POST MY COMMENTS ON YOUR SITE. Your site, for all your good intentions, is a serious invation of privacy (for one thing, if you have a person's birthday but are not sure of the year, you can now find out the year; also you can now determine anybody's party affiliation). You would be well advised to shut your site down, at least for several days, and redesign it. By the way, why did you choose a person's birthday as the identifier? Would social security number be safer? No one that I know of (besides myself, my bank, my employer, etc.) has that information. Thank you for your immediate attention to this matter."

I think that demonstrates exactly how much they respect the wishes of the citizens of NY...

-- Pete.

Re:Ooops! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#2212881)

I think the page automatically dumps the comments received on to the page. When I went to the site, the comments were not at all favorable, and some were rather colorful ;)

John

Re:Ooops! (1)

slaida1 (412260) | more than 12 years ago | (#2212916)

"YOU LOSE! Have fun at the EFF"

strange.. it shows this message and throws me to, you guessed it, to www.eff.org

It didn't say what did I lose or did they found the thing I've lost or anything. Oh well, EFF is a good site, it's nice they direct people there. More eyes on the real issues of todays world.

Re:Ooops! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#2213138)

I just checked my name and birthdate in the database and I am not there. I know I voted in the last presidential elections and that I live in NY State. These records aren't complete. Telling me that I am not a registered voter and that I haven't voted in the last four years is nuts. I don't think that they can proclaim to know the registered voters of NY State because they are missing some.

Just my 2 cents.

Practical Obscurity (1)

WhatThe?? (101905) | more than 12 years ago | (#2212715)

This follows the same lines as "security through obscurity"

Every one assumed they had privacy through "practical obscurity" meaning that before the internet information had to be obtained by actually visiting or calling a government agency.

With the internet the amount of personal data that you can obtain on a person in a relatively short period of time, while sitting at home is quite disturbing.

The real question is "Should the goverenment publish personal information to the net, but still make it available if you show up in person?"

0.02 cents

Affiliation (1)

plumby (179557) | more than 12 years ago | (#2212716)

As a Brit, I'm a little puzzled by the fact that the political preference of most people in New York seems to be public information. I typed in Smith and a random date, and got back several matches, most of which had their affiliation. Where does this information come from?

Re:Affiliation (2)

well_jung (462688) | more than 12 years ago | (#2212926)

You check a box when you register. The Parties started the practice to help with their direct mailings and gerrymandering.

I Just mark "Independant".

Celebrity Addresses (3, Interesting)

ReadParse (38517) | more than 12 years ago | (#2212719)

It was extremely easy for me to think of several celebrities who I thought probably live in New York City.
For example:
  • Jerry Seinfeld
  • Woody Allen
  • Matthew Broderick

It doesn't take long to come up with 10 or 15 names.

A quick Google [google.com] search for their name and the word "birthdate" gave me all I needed to find their home address using this site.

Some of them may think that this knowledge is not public, and they're the ones for whom information is most easily available, since celebrity birthdates are very easily found.

This certainly isn't the worst problem with this site. I think private citizens deserve privacy more than celebrities, who did, after all, make the decision to be known publicly, but theirs are the easiest birthdates to find.

Re:Celebrity Addresses (1)

elfkicker (162256) | more than 12 years ago | (#2212796)

Really! This takes my stalking skills to the next level. You can put up a bio on IMDB for just about anyone who's ever been on TV.

Donald Trump, Lauren Hutton, Spike Lee... the list goes on.

It's naive to think this info would have been kept private. Another neat site for the people who can't mind their own business is www.domania.com. Shows how much people paid for their house and assesed value so you report you neighbors to the tax collector.

I've also heard great things about resourse for Nexxus/Lexxus (sp?) but I've never used it. Any one have info on what kind of personal info you can get from it?

Re:Celebrity Addresses (1)

stoney27 (36372) | more than 12 years ago | (#2212974)


Yea but can you beleive the addresses are to their home address? Most likely, however I did a quick search on Matthew Broderick and Sarah Jessica Parker don't have the same address? :)

-Scott

legal question (2, Interesting)

jlemmerer (242376) | more than 12 years ago | (#2212721)

i know that 1800ussearch [1800ussearch.com] searches nearly all public databases for information about a certain subject. in most coubntries in Europe thats illegal... hwo do you cope with that in america?

Re:legal question (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#2213035)

We don't. Don't you know us americans are always getting screwed over?

pillars of privacy and public records (5, Insightful)

pjones (10800) | more than 12 years ago | (#2212747)

Robert Ellis Smith of Privacy Journal [privacyjournal.net] lists what he calls the 6 Pillars of Privacy (interestingly enough Senators that I've heard speak drop the last two and you'll see why):
  1. Notice (you need to know information is being collected)
  2. Choice (you need to know if and how you can opt out or in; for government info this you may not have an option and you should be informed of that as well)
  3. Access (you should be able to access any information collected about you; in government records this is covered by FOIA, but business is not so covered in all cases)
  4. Security (you should know if others are allowed access and in cases of no public access that restriction should be made secure)
  5. Accuracy (you should be able to demand that the information kept about you be accurate; interestingly enough this is one that's been dropped)
  6. Restricted Use (no unathorized secondary use of such data. South Carolina cannot sell its Drivers License database says the Supreme Court, but again businesses are not always so restricted)

All that said, the public has a long standing and legally well tested right to know (as we journalists call it). Public figure like the Mayor of New York or Janet Reno give up most claims to privacy that might apply to ordinary folks when they run for office. We need to know about their criminal and inventment histories when we vote (for example).

Problems with the guestbook on the site (2, Interesting)

captin nod (517564) | more than 12 years ago | (#2212752)

On http://www.registeredtovoteornot.com , there is a 5 step process. The last step allows you to post comments in the 'guestbook'. Problem is is that the guestbook in fact sticks the comments instantly right on to the main page of the website! This wouldn't be a problem, but several less-informed people have put up requests to be removed from the database - and included their date of birth, full name, address, Soc. sec. # etc!! Just reload the page every couple of minutes and you can see it happening in real time.. good if you want to do some identity stealing, not so good for the unwitting people who post the comments :/

security through obscurity again? (1)

mi (197448) | more than 12 years ago | (#2212755)

Same argument stands -- the "bad guy" will find it anyway... The easier the access, the higher the awareness -- no longer will one's unwillingness to, say, use the Social Security Number as the student ID number (UMass Boston [umb.edu] 's practice, for example), look freakish...

Then perhaps, the politicians will realize something too and some of those records will not be public anymore...

There is no privacy (1, Flamebait)

wiredog (43288) | more than 12 years ago | (#2212759)

Get over it.

info- data is kind of old (1)

call -151 (230520) | more than 12 years ago | (#2212797)

I registered to vote in an other county in NY more than 6 months ago (which is supposed to delete my NYC registration) but my record still appears on the site, so it is at least a few months behind or they are slow deleting re-registered voters.

Inaccurate Records? (1, Offtopic)

imadork (226897) | more than 12 years ago | (#2212804)

I moved out of NYC years ago, (and am a registered voter in my new district near Rochester) and yet my name is STILL on file there! I'd like a form to fill out that says "I moved away, please take me off not just your site, but the voter rolls as well." Maybe then my parents will stop getting Jury Duty notices in my name....

Re:Inaccurate Records? (1)

RFC959 (121594) | more than 12 years ago | (#2213036)

It's very hard to "un-register" yourself to vote, in my experience. All these organizations are gung-ho about getting you to register, but nobody ever explains how to change your registration. I suppose it's supposed to be automatic: when you register in one place, your registration elsewhere gets cancelled. Sometimes it works (within two weeks of my moving out of Arizona, they'd notified me at my new address that they'd cancelled my registration), and sometimes it doesn't (New York still considered me registered at my parents' home after I hadn't been living there for seven years and had been registered elsewhere for two.)

But that's the general problem of public databases, it seems: it's easy to get data into them, but not to get it out.

'Practical Obscurity' & possible solutions (3, Insightful)

hillct (230132) | more than 12 years ago | (#2212812)

I'm glad to see this issue finally coming to the fore. The legal prescidents mentioned in the article have pretty much set the foundation on this issue already. I have somewhat mixed feelings on this issue, for example, the online availability of detailed public records (including personally identifiable contact information, etc.) has made things like geneology MUCH easier, but the convenient availability of this information to a worldwide audience has a tremendous potential for abuse. In the more specific case, I've never felt my political affiliations should be public record at all (as, they reflect on my political beliefs, which are private) but since they are public record, there is no basis to prevent their distribution as far as I can see.

Let's assume for the moment that in fact something should be done to limit online access to what have always been public records. There are two possible approaches. Each typee of record could be examined and re-evaluated as to what portion of the record whould be made public (ie: remove the addresses of indeviduals from X record before it is made public) or the laws regarding the disclosure of public records could be ammended to prevent certain types of distribution of the media (ie: no electronic distribution permitted). The first solution, although more precise, would be almost impossible to achieve and would reduce the value of the record as a whole. The second is far more easily achievable, but may be over-reaching in the case of certain completely inocuous record types.

Peraps the latter alternative could be used where there shall be no electronic distribution of records to those who do not reside in a municipality local to the storage of the records (such thet they could have physical access to the records anyway, without inconvenience), but anyone who requested the records on paper or electronic media, could recieve them for private use - with the afore mentioned provision still in force). This solution has it's own problems, such as it would just server to create an industry that would employ indeviduals local to areas housing highly valued public records, to re-distribute them for a fee in some non-elecronic form, rather than such application fees as the government would otherwise collect.

--CTH

Too public (1)

Capt. Beyond (179592) | more than 12 years ago | (#2212815)

Ya, 'too public' thats almost as funny as the phrase 'too much freedom'

question authority....

useful property values site already (1)

call -151 (230520) | more than 12 years ago | (#2212826)

The NYT article talks about concern about making property sale prices conveniently available, but those are already conveniently available on the web. My preferred site for that is domania.com [domania.com] which has good data for lots of states across the country. There isn't data for states that don't disclose sale prices, and some areas are not well-covered, but in general, it has reasonably useful data. Try a few friends who bought places relatively recently- interesting. In some areas, it goes back to sales from 1987 onwards.

It should be email, not web, and take time (2)

iabervon (1971) | more than 12 years ago | (#2212849)

The idea of "practical obscurity" is that you can find out individual records that you're looking for, but you can't just go and get all of the records. This effectively prevents data mining while allowing access to direct information of public record.

The real-world implementation is that you can go and ask for a record, and get a copy of it. But you have to ask for the record you want; you can't just say, "give me all the records you have". I'd be fine with a site that made public records available online in such a way as to prevent someone from sending it all the names from the phone book or something.

Definatly Real Problem (1)

msheppard (150231) | more than 12 years ago | (#2212854)

Our town (Merrimack, NH) got a TON of flack for having the grand list online. Basically, if you knew someone's name or address you could get a picture of their house and property.

Mucho complaining, and they shut down the website. You can still go down to the town hall and get all this info though.
Is that better? I don't know.

Laws (1)

egburr (141740) | more than 12 years ago | (#2212859)

One public records that should be posted online are the laws we live under.

As a story here on /. mentioned a while back (the search tool is down at the moment, or I'd put a link to it), many laws a copyright by the people / organizations who submitted them. Once it becomes a law, copyright over that text should be void, and it should be publishable by anyone, and it should be put on the web for easy access.

Just the tip of the iceburg (2)

peterdaly (123554) | more than 12 years ago | (#2212860)

This is nothing. I work for a company that provides computer services and software for county records offices, which is where things like deeds and mortgages are registered with the county. Land owner's signatures, and sometimes even social security numbers are public information, and have been for quite some time. Anyone can go into the county office, and for a couple of bucks walk out with a copy of someone's mortgage.

My current job, or a major part of this is to put this information on the internet. There are still issues being worked out like who pays for the systems...the users or the county, and other minor problems, but in many counties the information will soon be available free over the internet. What's scary is it is a piece of cake for someone to grab person's name, usually address, signature, and social-sec-# all in a one stop shopping experience.

And the NYT is having a stink over names linked to addresses? We have not made any waves yet, but our core customer base are commercial searches, who if don't get the info over the internet will just drive to the county anyway.

I'll be interested to read the discussion following this article.

-Pete

unintelligent site design... (YOU LOSE, EFF) (2, Funny)

moogla (118134) | more than 12 years ago | (#2212875)

If you visit the website [registered...eornot.com] now, you might notice that you get redirected to the EFF [eff.org] . Apparently when you post comments, it doesn't check what you type in. A few lines of javascript later (hehe), and the site looks like it's h4x0r3d.

Great job e-ThePeople [e-thepeople.com] !
Great job.

looks like someone is pissed (2)

cetan (61150) | more than 12 years ago | (#2212879)

I try going to
http://www.registeredtovoteornot.com [registered...eornot.com]
and I get a javascript alert saying:

"You Loose! Have fun at the EFF"

And then it redirects to the EFF homepage.

I guess someone's feelings are hurt.

Re:looks like someone is pissed (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#2212960)

It seems they allow SCRIPT tags in their front comments... silly silly people.

From the registered to vote or not [www.regist...ovoteornot] page:

<p>WILLIAM S, on ROCKAWAY PARKWAY says, "</BODY></HTML><!--from the original javascript redirecting guy-->"</p>

<p>RUDOLPH G, on GRACIE MANSION says, "<SCRIPT>alert("This site has been slashdotted. Please move on"); location.href="http://www.slashdot.org/";</SCRI PT>"</p>

I missed the EFF one before as I'm one of those freaks who turns JS off for general browsing ;). And no this is not my work.

What's there to be afraid of? (0, Flamebait)

slaida1 (412260) | more than 12 years ago | (#2212882)

So everybody knows everything about anybody. So what? Really: so what? I'm curious what could happen if all personal information would suddenly become freely available to anyone. Life right now is boring and too many bastards hiding behind scenes. I want real changes and this sounds like one. :)

At least it would save us from stupid tabloid headline "uncoverings" and "revealings" when all is public knowledge already. Oh, how it'd confuse the heck out of those sorry asses whos only joy of life is snooping on other peoples doings! Suckers, snoop on this! <vulgar_gesture>

Nice comment that redirects you :) (1)

mintech (93916) | more than 12 years ago | (#2212887)

The site is really dumb. They allow users to post anything, so some brilliant guy went in and posted a javascript that redirects you to eff.org. :)

His script says:
WILLIAM S, on ROCKAWAY PARKWAY says, "(SCRIPT)alert("YOU LOSE! Have fun at the EFF"); location.href="http://www.eff.org/";(/SCRIPT)"

I just disabled javascript to read the site... To fix it, I guess 3 people need to add comments to clear that out

Re:Nice comment that redirects you :) (2)

CaptainSuperBoy (17170) | more than 12 years ago | (#2212895)

Always a hallmark of a well-written site. Taking input from a user and spitting it back verbatim is NEVER a good thing.. there are plenty of worse things people can do with that than just redirecting you to a different page..

There *IS* such a thing as TOO public. (2)

cruise (111380) | more than 12 years ago | (#2212898)

I do not think that, when they set the rules for publicc access to public records, they knew the internet was coming.

For example, Foreigners able to access our citizens public records just by browsing to their county's public records page.

I live in Volusia County, FL (where all the shark attacks are happening) ANYONE can browse to http://www.clerk.org and put my name in and find out all kind of information about me from my last speeding ticket to the deed on my house. My social security number is included on some of these documents and available for the WORLD to see.

Also, City Officials seem to have some pull on the online database - just look up records to the clerk herself - Diane Matousek - You will find almost all of the documents on her many property purchases to be "missing".

Sure, it says it's a crime to misuse the information... but since when do criminals follow the laws?

Re:There *IS* such a thing as TOO public. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#2213137)

Also, City Officials seem to have some pull on the online database - just look up records to the clerk herself - Diane Matousek - You will find almost all of the documents on her many property purchases to be "missing".

Tampering with public records in that manner is likely a felony. Why not (anonymously) make some officials at the state level aware of it. Of course, Volusia County isn't exactly the hotbed of good government. It's a well known fact that driving through Volusia County with any significant amount of cash posed a hazard of having it "confsicated" by a sheriff's deputy as "drug money" for some time now, particularly if one is "of color."

~~~

Explanation of 28 May 1944 (1)

Duncan Cragg (209425) | more than 12 years ago | (#2212904)

May 28 1944 Birthdays

Rudolph Giuliani (politician and former Mayor of New York City)

http://www.famousbirthdays.net/may28.htm

Re:Explanation of 28 May 1944 (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#2213023)

Since when was Giuliani the "former Mayor of New York City)? Last I heard he is still the Mayor.

It's a very sticky question (1)

sniglet999 (168561) | more than 12 years ago | (#2212905)

As a State government webmaster, I've been expressly asked NOT to publish information that one of our departments has...

How to obtain a permit for explosives.

Can a person obtain that information by calling us on the phone? yes. But by making the information hard enough to obtain, you're hopefully reducing the number of people you don't want to have that kind of power.

I've been a 'victim' of identity theft. An analysis of _that_ occurance determined that all the other person had was my name and SSN. They could get that if they worked for my Doctor, Life insurance Company, Workplace, Bank, or a miriad of other places that have FullName and SSN as fields in a database.
Most likely it did not stem from my internet usage.
I don't know what the solution is, but I can tell you it's not an 'internet only' phenomena.

Not only do they post your information... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#2212924)

but they take more while you are there!

Taken from privacy page of the site:

In addition to this data, here is a summary of all the information we collect about you when you use this service:

  • Visit data. When you visit, we collect certain information automatically, including the IP address of the computer you are accessing the Internet through, the type of browser you are using, and the site that referred you to us, and the pages you visit while on the site. This data allows us to assess the performance of the site and of various pages within the site.
  • Cookie data. When you visit, we place a "session cookie" on your computer, which allows us to remember information from one page on our site to the next. This information is erased immediately when you leave the site or close your browser.
  • Your email address. When you enter your email address on the site, we store the information so that we can send you an Election Day alert.
  • Your friends' email addresses. If you choose to use our forms to recommend the site to your friends, we record these email addresses so we can tell that it was you who referred them to the site. This allows us to track the success of your personal get-out-the-vote campaign.

And more people filing complaints are unknowingly having their input posted on the index page along with their address, and any information they include in their text (some are including social security numbers. more harm than good!)

John - newrisedesigns.com [newrisedesigns.com]

slashdot effect (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#2212928)

Ok, I'm pretty sure that when a site is slashdotted it doesn't come up with a message saying "This site has been slashdotted. Please move on". And I was just gonna get the addresses of famous people as well, ah well.

slashdot effect (2)

wiredog (43288) | more than 12 years ago | (#2212942)

When I went to registeredtovoteornot.com (at 09:20 EST) it popped up a dialog box that read "This site has been slashdotted. Please move on", clicking "OK" redirected back here.

What does the public need to know? (2, Interesting)

speed_bump (104415) | more than 12 years ago | (#2212955)

It might be helpful to consider what the public actually needs to know in deciding what information should be available in any form (paper or electronic). Various government agencies need to collect personal information about the consituents it serves. This is unavoidable. So the question becomes who needs to have that information and when is having that information available in the public interest.

I think you can make a case for saying that having deeds and property ownership information available is a good and necessary thing. That does not mean that complete personal information (birthdate, SSN, etc) about the owner needs to be made available to anyone who asks. I think it's time to start considering dividing records into two parts one of which will be provided to the public, and the other (which may be necessary for the agency to do its job) which will not be disclosed to a third party.

This should not be confounded with the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). FOIA is generally a good thing. It is the hook that enables us to keep tabs on our government. This needs to be protected. However, it can be limited. It is rarely necessary for a journalist or other investigatory agency to obtain the records of specific individuals to do their jobs. It is almost never necessary to disclose this to a corporation which will typically use it primarily for marketing. Note that there is precedent for this. In most cases state universities have exemptions from FOIA for student records. This principle can be extended.

This is an old problem made even more problematic by new technology. Gotta love it.

Maybe different types of public access are needed? (3, Insightful)

RobertAG (176761) | more than 12 years ago | (#2212958)

Traditionally, one has always had to make the "trip across town" to the local town/city hall or state/federal building. This has limited access only to those who were somewhat determined to get the information (ie for lawsuits and other conflicts).

Easier access to this information can be used by spammers, telemarketers, etc. to create mailing lists that bombard us with all kinds of garbage.

I propose that online access to public information be limited such that it doesn't allow a person to retrieve dozens or hundreds of records continuously. If a person wants to access such information, he or she would be allowed a fixed amount of usage (determined by a browser cookie, a scan of the persons IP address, etc.) per day or week. If that person needs to access or download hundreds of records at once for legitimate reasons such as lawsuits, tax research, title research, then such access can be applied for and granted on a case by case basis.

This won't stop unscrupulous people from abusing legitimate access for their own needs, but it will provide some tracability and accountability for their actions.

Public records should remain public. However, the cybernetic tools to search and gather hundreds of records don't have to be. A human brain has always been an excellent, and free, tool to use. It still is.

Doesn't Information want to be free? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#2212971)

Doesn't Information want to be free?

I don't see why everyone is upset. (3, Insightful)

acceleriter (231439) | more than 12 years ago | (#2212993)

This levels the playing field. So long as there is no special treatment for the rich and/or famous, public records should be public and as easily accessible as possible. Did it make everyone feel better before that only those "in the know" could go look up what we errorneously though were private details about our lives?

The answer to any concerns that there is too much in the public record is to change the laws so such information is not public record, not to make public records harder for the "little people" to access.

Re:I don't see why everyone is upset. (2)

Steve B (42864) | more than 12 years ago | (#2213055)

If something is legitimately part of the public record, then it should be as easy to access as possible.


If easy access pushes questions as to whether or not such-and-such is legitimately part of the public record, so much the better -- these questions need to be raised, or the default answer becomes whatever the bureaucrats who operate the system want it to be.

What happened to nformation wants to be free? (4, Interesting)

jmichaelg (148257) | more than 12 years ago | (#2212996)

I'm bemused by the large number of "they shouldn't be allowed to publish that" comments. If this was youdontneedtoknowthat.com, I'd understand it better.

I ran for school board a few years back and I needed a list of registered voters in my district. I had to pay the county $100. Not a lot, but it represented 10% of what we had to spend on the campaign. I clearly had a need to know and it rankled me that some bureaucrat had decided that candidates should have to pay $100 for a floppy that took 2 minutes to produce. It boiled down to a tax on challenging the incumbents.

As a public service, I publish California high school SAT scores. [greenes.com] Every year, it's like pulling teeth to get the state to relinquish the data. We go round the bush with the same arguments each year and then they finally let me have the data. It's obvious they don't like what I do with the data, but then, is it their right to deny access?

We operate a tutoring business that uses computers to grade some 500 tests per week. We think what we're doing has a real effect on children's ability to compute and that it's positively correlated with their math test scores. We've needed access to data for years to test that hypothesis but privacy concerns thwarted that access. This year, we finally gained access and sure enough, our hypothesis was confirmed. Those data not only showed us we're on the right track, they also suggested changes in what we're doing. Was the public interest better served by denying access?

In the end, it comes down to "who decides what you should be allowed to know?" Given their druthers, most agencies would rather they decide, even if their decision is not in the public interest.

So much for screening... (2)

Compulawyer (318018) | more than 12 years ago | (#2213005)

Along with the JavaScript exploit someone else mentioned, I found these choice comments from other site "users":


What others are saying:

TIM R, on WEST 15 STREET says, "Susan and I love your site.
Thanks for giving out our home address!"

JERRY S, on CENTRAL PARK WEST says, "Hi Jerry Seinfeld
here. I live at 211 Central Pk. West and was born 4/29/54 I'm a
stand-up comic, but I don't think this site is very funny! Now
everyone knows I'm a registered democrat! "

WILLIAM D, on GREENWICH STREET says, "Please remove
my data from your database!"

Other issues aside, with quality control like this, I wonder how much of this information is accurate.

Right or privilege? (1)

mystery_bowler (472698) | more than 12 years ago | (#2213029)

Currently I'm involved with a system proposal for a local civil court system. The records of a civil case are public, and the court clerk's office will allow anyone to walk off the street and read the contents of any filed case. But their plan for a web-based database of case information dictates that accessing the data via the web will cost money. Their primary justification for this plan is that they can't justify the increase in budget necessary to accomodate bandwidth/maintenance charges. They also argue that making the information available via the Internet is not mandated by state law, so the public does not have the right to access the information via the web. It would only be a privilege of those who pay for it.

I'm not sure how I feel about it. I guess that they court clerk's office doesn't have to do anything that isn't in the law, so, in my opinion, the law should be changed to provide such a mandate (and, consequently, state funds for providing such access). I can live with part of my tax dollars going to make this information available on the web.

It's simple (2)

Uttles (324447) | more than 12 years ago | (#2213040)

If it's public, put it on the web. The means of distribution should not be confused with the security level of the document. If it's public, put it on the web, otherwise, don't. I think it's pretty underhanded to call something public and then not provide a reasonable and convenient means for public viewing.

NYT Sucks (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#2213041)

It requires free registration.

Shouldnt link to it

Privacy by Obfuscation IS worse, not better (4, Insightful)

bwt (68845) | more than 12 years ago | (#2213066)

I think the concept of "too public" is completely bogus. It is actually WORSE to allow access to public records in crippled ways only. In a nutshell, knowledge is power and a system where data is difficult to get citizens are at a tremendous knowledge power inequity. I support anything that moves power to citizens.

All privacy by obfuscation does is create fake value-add business models to market public data.

An example is judicial decisions and legal records. Most circuits are available on the net now, but most district opinions are still offline. Lexis and Westlaw make big bucks by doing nothing other than providing access to public documents. The whole legal industry is dependent on them, which increases legal costs dramatically, reduces predictability of the law, and serves to enforce the guild.

The credit report situtation is just as bad. You often have to pay to see what's in your own credit report, but it provides no privacy protection against creditors and potential creditors, who are the main groups you want privacy protection from.

Once policy decides that information should be public, it should be made available in the most accessible way. If the info should be private, the information subject should control all access. The problem is only if we choose to make information public or semi-public that should be private.

My appraisal district here makes all property values available on the net in a manner that can be searched by name or address. I have looked up all of my neighbors and my coworkers property values. I think that crosses the line, but I would absolutely NOT consider it a solution to make people go in to the property tax office to get these records, though. That would simply serve to limit the knowledge to those who could pay a falsely inflated price to get the information, which would then serve to improve the negotiation position of organizations over citizens.

Transparent Government (1)

howardjp (5458) | more than 12 years ago | (#2213072)

It is a necessity for the public that these records remain public. These records have been public in the United States for 200 years. The only difference was ease of access. Years ago, when a high school student, I worked for my local auditors office and I had floor plans to every building in the county available to me. This access must remain open.
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