Its my privacy, or is it? (and what it means for our students)

simulpost with TechLearning

I am editing to explain more clearly how this is different from regular public records. Several bloggers have noted that this information is already available, which some of it is. My additions are in italics.

Ethics discussions belong “smack dab in the middle” of schools so that students will understand when they are adults that just because they can, doesn’t mean they should.

We have had some interesting class discussions about the new company Intelius which for $15 dollars will sell your cell phone number, unlisted number, social security number and more for a fee. (I think it is perhaps this purchase of cell phone numbers and unlisted numbers which is NOT in the public records database as most bothersome.)

I looked up myself and it had every address I’ve ever lived (since turning 21) and the following information for ONLY $49.95 and although I have no criminal record, I was stalked in college and it is that which bothers me most!

BACKGROUND REPORT INCLUDES (WHEN AVAILABLE):
#
# STATEWIDE CRIMINAL CHECK
SEX OFFENDER CHECK
#
# BANKRUPTCIES & LIENS
SMALL CLAIMS & JUDGMENTS
#
# ADDRESS HISTORY
RELATIVES & ASSOCIATES
#
# NEIGHBORS
HOME VALUE & DETAILS
#
# NEIGHBORHOOD INFO
SATELLITE & MAP IMAGES
#
# ALIAS NAMES
MUCH MORE…

Goodbye privacy! Hello, whoever shows up on my doorstep that doesn’t like me!

My students were very disturbed and pointed out two things that bothered them in particular:

1) The photograph:

My students felt it implied some sort of stalking or finding someone who may not want to be found. In their words, “that photo creeps me out.”

This shows a man approaching a woman on her front porch with the door open.

For me, it brings back very bad memories of a time when a boy in college who had one date wanted another date and much more from me and I was not interested in him. It was a very scary time in which every guy friend I knew took turns escorting me and ultimately — there were times I was approached when others still weren’t around. (Like the time he started “dating” a girl down the hall but still stopped by my room and left messages.) This was solved by a change of address — but in today’s world — I doubt that a change of address or cell phone number change would help!

This bothers me. It also bothers me that they can search for and find my relatives and close associates, and the value of my home, who my neighbors are, and a satellite map of my house. It seems a little to prepackaged and easy to me.

2) The subtitles

These subtitles are under the photograph.

The right knowledge can make all the difference.

That’s why millions of people rely on Intelius to deliver the information they need to protect their interests and maneuver in a complex world.

Live in the know. Live Inteliusly.

They felt that maneuver was a Machiavellian sort of hint that made them very uncomfortable. (Yes, they said that — go History teacher!)

As we discussed the other information that could be harmful, they asked:

“What happens when a company figures out archiving people’s myspace accounts and will sell you every iteration of a myspace page? (Even after it is “cleaned up” when you get ready for a job.) Or what if someone who has a whole lot of friends decides to sell screen shots of the pages of their friends? ”

I also tire of the telemarketers calling me and had my name put on several no-call lists. This means that these numbers can more easily go back on the call list as this company generates leads for others (i.e. give me the name and cell phone # of those who make above $XX).

My goodness!

It also means, that even those who avoid the Internet now have private information on the Internet (and probably don’t know it.)

The Right to Privacy
Yes, knowledge is power, but in this case, we have a right to privacy as well.

By the way, I am immediately having myself removed from this service by going to http://www.intelius.com/privacy-faq.php#5 and following the information. Although, by reading the information below, it is doubtful it will do much good!

It does require faxing information to them (which makes me wonder if they will not harvest my fax number.)

Here is what the company says about removing your information:

How can I remove my information from the Intelius public records databases?
Public records, by law, must be available from the official public records office to anyone who requests them. Accordingly, because individuals cannot opt out of public records databases generally, Intelius does not offer individuals the opportunity to opt out of our public records databases. In order for any database of public records to be useful, the databases must contain all of the information in the public records offices. Our data files must accurately reflect the underlying public records, and we do not remove or suppress any information that is both accurate and publicly available. For example, if a bank is going to lend money to a company, it has to be certain that a search of the public records databases will reveal all of the previous encumbrances against the company, so that it can effectively evaluate the risk involved in making the loan.

If you have a compelling privacy or security issue, you may wish to contact the official custodians of those public records that contain sensitive information about you, such as your county’s land records office, to determine how to remove your information from the public record. (The process of having public records sealed typically requires a court order.) This process will ensure that the information is not available from the public records custodian, Intelius, or any other information provider.

As a courtesy we can temporarily ‘opt out’ your information from the Intelius People Search.

Fax or mail your name and address as it appears on our website. Or print the page from our website that includes your information.

Please note that removing the data here does not prevent public records from sending us new information in the future.

Intelius fax number: (425) 974-6194

Intelius, Inc.
Attn: CUSTOMER SERVICE
500 – 108th Ave NE #1660
Bellevue, WA 98004

So, how does this relate to education?

Safety
It relates in every sort of way. Stalking just got a whole lot easier as did predatory behavior. It means that our children’s and our own names have become even more important! (Particularly our full names.)

How we use full names
If someone finds out a parent’s name, they now know everything they need to know about the child. (They don’t seem to have children under 21 in there — yet.)

We already don’t ID children and require the use of pseudonyms and first names in photographs only, however, now identifying parents can be just as harmful. And we often use full name in honor rolls or send it in press releases to newspaper articles.

It is just that we haven’t really viewed our own names as private and I’m not really sure how society would function if we begin to. (What do we print on report cards – Full names!) My goodness, our mail has our name on it — if someone steals mail out of our mailbox, could they now have the key to our lives?

Password security
It also means that we need to teach children (and teachers) methods of creating a password that will not include information from a public record. The first trick of hackers is often to find out the name of a person’s relatives because most often, those are in a person’s password.

Identity protection
Identity theft has also become easier. I’m not an expert, but am going to find one and read their book.

Educating kids
Kids need to know that these things follow them. I am using this company as a case study in ethics in all of my classes. Let’s give them the knowledge to understand what will follow them!

I’m sure if we took a moment, we could think of even more issues for us to consider as educators and guardians of a lot of private information.

What can we do?

Although this information comes from public records, it has become much more easily accessible. I believe that public records should be under the same if not more stringent requirements than our medical doctors and should require a release to send this information to another party.

I believe that we must educate all children (and their parents) about privacy and safety. Not just from a fear perspective but as a positive approach. I will however say, that this company strikes fear in the heart of even pretty optimistic me.

We have a problem. The dollar has become more important than fundamental belief in right and wrong. So, as much as I do not like big government and bureaucracy — I believe where the privacy and safety of our citizenry (and truly the world citizenry) are considered, that we cannot be too safe.

What do you think? In particular, how does it need to change what we do in schools?

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21 thoughts on “Its my privacy, or is it? (and what it means for our students)

  1. It is a very scary topic to think about privacy. Since 9/11, many people are more aware of privacy; however, I’m not sure much has been done concerning the release of information as you have detailed in this blog entry. I know that while in college, there sure seemed to be a lot more times that I had to show my student ID to get basic information after 9/11.

  2. These issues can be scary, but as educators we should not overplay that angle. We should use current events and the rise of companies like Intelius to stimulate discussion and engage kids in critical evaluation of media, technology, all of it.

    Prompting your students to deconstruct the photograph — what a great exercise in critical literacy with the added benefit of raising awareness about Internet ethics, safety, privacy, etc.!

    I’m an English teacher and immediately dystopian novels come to mind — certainly 1984 and Brave New World but also M.T. Anderson’s 2002 young adult novel, Feed. Because of some language, it would be ideal for upperlevel secondary students.

    Using literature as a springboard for self-examination and critiquing contemporary society is not in itself a new idea. But there sure are a lot of new and exciting discussions to be had based on the utility, accessibility, and invasive (and, yes, sometimes “scary”) nature of all this new technology.

  3. Quentin-

    It is a scary combination of public records and things that aren’t public — they actually negotiated to buy 50 million cell phone numbers and are going to purchase another 20 million numbers — so yes, there is public information but from what I’ve read they are buying up private information that you’ve unknowingly given to companies who sell it — that combination is what makes it a bit too scary to me.

    Higgy-
    We’re more concerned about security so we’re giving up a bit of our privacy — I think a discussion about who has our information needs to be happening. I have to wonder =- how many of the predatory crimes we see are because of myspace and how many because information is so readily available like this.

    Jennifer-
    Yes, we must always empower our students with the ability to analyze and take a look at things and the student’s comments were very insightful. I know that it makes them think twice about putting in all that information that websites ask for — and I hope it does!

    Durff– I feel the same as you — ethics belongs squarly in school.

  4. I got a slightly different answer about removing yourself:

    Subject: How do I remove my information from your site?

    Email Response from our customer service team:
    In order for Intelius to ‘opt out’ your public information from being viewable on the Intelius website, we require faxed proof of identity. Proof of identity can be a state issued ID card or driver’s license. If you are faxing a copy of your driver’s license, cross out the photo and the driver’s license number. We only need to see the name, address and date of birth.

    Please fax information to our customer service department at 425-974-6194.

    If you are not comfortable doing this, you can send us a notarized form proving your identity and we will be glad to remove this public information.

    ** Please note removing the data here does not prevent public records from sending us new information in the future. To permanently have your records sealed, you will need to contact your county’s records department.

    Sincerely,
    Intelius Customer Service

    However, it’s probably pointless as there will just be another web site that takes its place in the future. Zabasearch.com is another one, for example.

    The public record has always been public, it’s just the internet has made it much easier to find information because you don’t have to go anywhere.

  5. Question: Are all of the officers and employees of the company listed on the website? It seems that if they are legit in wanting to provide information about others, they should open themselves up to the same potential intrusion. In addition, I wonder about the legality of posting information such as social security numbers. It is my understanding that some data is security sensitive and not ALL information is accessible through the Freedom of information act. This is why schools needed to stop using social security numbers as id numbers. Certainly at the university level, even as a professor I cannot let anyone know if a student is in my class without that student’s permission. So where are these “open” sources of “public” information? I think there needs to be more clarification (ask you school attorney for example) and we should be writing congress to make sure there is a balance between information public entities need to know, information the individual member of the public can access, and what “for-profit” organizations and entities have access to.

  6. Two points of clarification for the sake of an informed discussion that doesn’t veer off into the hysterical:

    No social security numbers are EVER sold or displayed on Intelius’ site. SSNs are protected information and cannot be purchased. Again, SSN info is NOT EVER SOLD AT INTELIUS.

    Mobile phone numbers that consumers have used as their sole number (on, for example, applications for permits or property sales or purchases) have made their way into public records, thus making them searchable and not “private”.

  7. Anon —
    I looked at it again — perhaps it doesn’t sell ssn’s but it does allow you to LOOK UP by ssn.

    I’ll check back. I do however maintain that if someone runs the check, I have a right to know it. Info is too easy to get.

  8. Correct — you can search by SSN, but the info returned isn’t sensitive or identified by the government as protected — it’s basic public records info, which has been publicly available (for free in almost every county courthouse in the country and elsewhere) for decades.

    Quentin — I am in agreement with you. THis info has been available for decades. The major difference here is that society has changed, as has our primary communication tool. Where as it used to be connected to a wall, it’s now cordless and cellular, which means we now have a whole new way we need to be able to locate our friends and old contacts when they move or our contact info gets old.

    And frankly, I am glad to have an opportunity to research when I see a number I don’t recognize repeatedly on my and my spouse’s cell phone (or, i imagine if I was a parent, I’d like to know if a number I didn’t recognize was repeatedly calling my child).

    If unwanted people are calling me or my children and don’t have to identify themselves, why should I have to tell them when I use a tool to discover who they are?

  9. Something to consider: protecting public information, as you suggest, the same way medical info is protected would mean that criminal records of individuals would be under lock and key.

    Long ago this info was made public to empower consumers with the ability to research people in their worlds (which today means in their childrens’ world, in the online dating world, etc.).

    Are you willing to sacrifice that tool in order to keep an old friend from calling your cell phone after you move or change your number or they lose it?

    I don’t think I am. I wonder what your students would think.

  10. I find it interesting that those most in favor of the ability to find out anything they can about you do not have hyperlinks to profiles here or any information — either they are anonymous or a private profile. You are already keeping people from searching you by hiding some information, at least on blogger.

    I for one, do not want to have to pay $49.99 or even $8 each time I get a call from someone I don’t know.

    I do, however, want to prevent myself (or my daughter) from being stalked. I do advocate for public criminal records and am not advocating that this information go private (if you’ll read my later blog posts), only that when someone pays to receive my profile that I am notified of the same information about them or at least that they ran the search.

    I think this is only fair. Such a tool as this could work hand in hand to victimize as well as protect.

    As a woman who has been stalked, and solved the problem with a change of address — this is very scary to me. How do you answer that? And the photos on the front of this website are certainly a leaning in that direction.

    And whether or not we agree or disagree with such a way to search — we all MUST agree that we are only being responsible when we show students that they CAN be searched in this way and methods to protect themselves.

  11. Here is another people search web site to opt out of:

    PeopleFinders.com

    How do I remove myself from these records? Top of Page

    We value your privacy and, upon request, can block your records from being shown in many, but not all, of our search results. To do so, you should contact us by writing a letter giving us your:

    1. First name
    2. Last name
    3. Middle initial
    4. Aliases and A.K.A.’s
    5. Complete current address
    6. Complete former addresses going back 20 years
    7. Date of Birth – including month, day, and year

    It is also very helpful to include a print out of the records that you wish to have suppressed.

    Send this letter to:
    Opt-Out/PeopleFinders.com
    1821 Q Street
    Sacramento, CA 95814

    Please also enclose your email address or a self address stamped envelope and we will provide record of the records being suppressed.

    This information will be kept confidential and is used to ensure complete suppression of your records.

    link: http://www.peoplefinders.com/help/default.aspx#26

  12. I think it’s okay to be “open” about your affairs and allow background checks and reverse phone lookups on yourself. After all – if you’ve done nothing wrong, what have you got to hide??

  13. @Cell Phone Trace-

    I have nothing to hide, however it is obvious that you have never been stalked… I have.

    When one is being stalked, such information is not only unwelcome but dangerous. We need to protect children and the unwary.

  14. Many people find themselves curious about Public Records . Sometimes, it is just idle curiosity. Sometimes, it is a potential employer or other interested party who wants more details concerning a court case which effects them. After all, even major court cases may be decided well after media attention dies down, and the resulting records are simply published and forgotten about. Additionally, many persons wish to know more about the legal history of a person, especially if the person may have been less than good.

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