What the Web knows about you

How much private information is available about you in cyberspace? Social Security numbers are just the beginning.

I came away with a listing of past and present neighbors' addresses, phone numbers and partial Social Security numbers and a historical list of my real estate property transactions that included the amount paid, date of purchase and mortgage lender name. I found the assessed value for my residence for the year 1997. Also available: my mother's and father's names, ages, address, phone number and partial Social Security numbers.

While LexisNexis allows voter registration list searches, no information appeared for my name in New Hampshire. Voter registration lists have been consolidated into a central database to meet federal requirements. Currently, that database is exempted from New Hampshire's Right-to-Know Law , but legislators have given the Democratic and Republican parties exclusive access to it, says New Hampshire State Representative and privacy advocate Neal Kurk, a Republican.

"The parties take this information and sell it to candidates, and you can be sure that a disc containing all of this information goes to various marketers or charities or whoever," he says. So far, though, it wasn't accessible to me.

I also could have searched for other, more sensitive data, such as driver's license and motor vehicle registrations, on LexisNexis. Access to that data is controlled by government regulations, but to see it I simply had to pick a "permissible" use (litigation, debt recovery, insurer, etc.) from a drop-down list. While LexisNexis' terms and conditions do state that it keeps track of who has accessed regulated data, as far as I could tell, anyone can conduct a search without any verification of a permissible use claim.

At other sites, permissible use is simply a generic checkbox item under Terms and Conditions. At US Search, for example, the terms of use state that "By purchasing US Search services you agree that ... You will use the Service only for appropriate, legal purposes, and in compliance with all applicable federal, state and local laws and regulations." Not too reassuring.

What else is out there?

Did I find everything that was out there? Private investigator Rambam says the information I gathered in a few days of work was just the tip of the iceberg of what is available about individuals online. Rambam runs PallTech , an investigative database service for law enforcement and security professionals. Its 25 billion records on individuals and businesses include aggregated public records, telephone listings, marketing data, and more sensitive, regulated data such as vehicle registrations.

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Robert L. Mitchell

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