All posts in Public Records

When Wikipedia Knows Something Too Soon

Daniel Solove
Founder of TeachPrivacy

Wikipedia Logo PNG 01

One of the virtues of the online encyclopedia Wikipedia is that it can reflect new information very quickly after it becomes known. But there’s a rather odd development in the case of wrestler Chris Benoit’s murder of his family and suicide. From the AP: Continue Reading

FBI Plans Data Mining Project

Daniel Solove
Founder of TeachPrivacy

Data Mining

Several years ago, the Department of Defense began developing a program called Total Information Awareness, a massive data mining project analyzing personal information on every citizen of the United States. After a series of blistering op-eds and strong negative public reaction, the Senate voted to stop all funding for the program. Continue Reading

Blacklisted and Rebuffed by Canada

Daniel Solove
Founder of TeachPrivacy

Canada

So you want to go to Canada, eh? Well, you might get turned away at the border if you have any criminal convictions in your past. Even ones from 20 or 30 years ago. Even minor crimes. From the San Francisco Chronicle:

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Verifying Identity: From One Foolish Way to Another

Daniel Solove
Founder of TeachPrivacy

Social Security Numbers

For quite some time, banks and financial institutions have been using people’s Social Security Numbers (SSNs) to verify their identities. Suppose you want to access your bank account to check your balance, change addresses, or close out the account. You call the bank, but how does the bank know it’s really you? For a while, banks were asking you for your SSN. Your SSN was used akin to a password. If you knew this “secret” number, then it must be you. Of course, as I have written about at length, a SSN is one of the dumbest choices for a password. Not only is it a password that can readily be found out, but it is a password that’s very hard to change. Not a wise combination. People’s SSNs are widely available, and the data security breaches in the past two years exacerbated the exposure. A lot of legislative attention has focused on the leakers of the data, and rightly so, but not enough attention has been focused on the businesses that use people’s SSNs as passwords. If SSNs weren’t used in this way, leaking them wouldn’t cause the harm it does.

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The Reincarnation of Expunged Criminal Records

Daniel Solove
Founder of TeachPrivacy

Redact Document

The New York Times reports:

In 41 states, people accused or convicted of crimes have the legal right to rewrite history. They can have their criminal records expunged, and in theory that means that all traces of their encounters with the justice system will disappear.

But enormous commercial databases are fast undoing the societal bargain of expungement, one that used to give people who had committed minor crimes a clean slate and a fresh start.

Most states seal at least some records of juvenile offenses. Many states also allow adults arrested for or convicted of minor crimes like possessing marijuana, shoplifting or disorderly conduct to ask a judge, sometimes after a certain amount of time has passed without further trouble, to expunge their records. If the judge agrees, the records are destroyed or sealed.

But real expungement is becoming significantly harder to accomplish in the electronic age. Records once held only in paper form by law enforcement agencies, courts and corrections departments are now routinely digitized and sold in bulk to the private sector. Some commercial databases now contain more than 100 million criminal records. They are updated only fitfully, and expunged records now often turn up in criminal background checks ordered by employers and landlords.

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