© 2012 Cary J. Calderone, Esq.
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, Zillow.com, 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 zillow.com 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.