Your Records Held For Ransom?

Daniel Solove coined the phrase ‘practical obscurity’:

“Practical obscurity” refers to the privacy an individual enjoys when personal information contained in public records is relatively hard to obtain. If a would-be harasser must travel some distance, wait in line and deal face-to-face with clerks to obtain a victim’s home address and phone number, he or she might think twice about taking action.

Having recently had to deal with a family member being stalked by someone who was able to obtain her home address via property tax records indexed by Google, I am a firm believer that the power of modern search technology makes it too easy to correlate a person’s name with information that could be used to harm them, and that our laws are insufficient to address this issue. Indeed, our laws seem to be on the side of businesses who would like to make a profit by selling your contact information.

Personally, I feel that a person owns his or her own contact information, and that the law should protect the consumer.

Case in point: sells background searches. They advertise by spamming the search engines with computer-generated pages containing the names of every person they have records for. There are many companies like them, but while most of their competitors offer some solution that lets consumers request to have their information removed, seems to be somewhat unique in that they want to charge consumers for the privelege. For $10, they will remove your information from their website for one year.

If you’re concerned about stalking or domestic violence, that seems almost like extortion. However, as far as I know, there are no federal laws requiring public information aggregators like to offer consumers an easy-to-find method to opt out at no charge.

It’s an issue that I think more consumers should be aware of, and one which I think we should all be talking to our legislators about.