November 2, 2012

Faster Than A Speeding "Click"-The Loss of Your Privacy

© 2012 Cary J. Calderone, Esq.

Halloween just passed.  Every day there seems to be a new scary news story about online tracking capabilities and the loss of your privacy.  Medical records get hacked.  Credit card and social security  information gets hacked.  Advertisers know what you want to buy, before you do!  The regulators are investigating where to draw a line.  Digital advertisers are simultaneously voicing their concerns and calling for self-policing all while they are positioning their products to respond to potential legislation and limitations.  But this post is not about these "new privacy" concerns.  It is about "old privacy" and the many areas of personal information that are governed by old laws that did not contemplate the internet we have today.  Here is an example.

 Technology has made "clicking" for instant information routine and the result is that the old laws governing sensitive information are no longer adequate.  For example, using free tools and access via the web, it is now possible to discover the following about your home:  When it last sold.  The sale price. The amount that it owed on it and the name of the lending institutions. And, very likely, who purchased it.  You can also find out the selling prices for all the neighboring homes.  Truth be told, as an attorney, we always knew how to get this information.  However, the process was costly, took time, and was most likely limited to having access to local county recorder offices.  It often took the expense and effort of dispatching an assistant or investigator for many hours, days, or weeks, to search the county records in each county that may have contained property.  The microfiche records at the offices would be searched manually, during normal business hours.  Anything found would need to be photocopied and brought back to the law office for analysis.  This is no longer the case.

Now, using tools like Google Maps,, and free online access to county recorder offices, this process can be accomplished in a few minutes and generally for free.  Does that make you feel uncomfortable?  It should.  There were natural cost, time, and expertise hurdles that protected your sensitive information from fast disclosure.  Even though the information was technically, public record, it was not exposed so just anybody could review it.  The hassle, time and expense, kept that information from the eyes of just anybody who happened to get curious.  Those hurdles and protections are gone.

And this is just one example.  There are others.  All our original personal information rules need to be revisited by the legislatures and the courts.  The example of the online county recorder records and is illuminating.  Those that are working to protect us must understand that it is not just about distinguishing  public versus private information, but rather the rapid speed at which information becomes public that may cause problems.  As we ponder "new data" and the rules for keeping sensitive information private let's not forget about the "old data."  There is much work to be done.

No comments: