Privacy? You don't really think you have any, do you?

By Debra LoGuercio

©Copyright 2005, Debra LoGuercio, all rights reserved

If this doesn't make you furious, I hope it's because it terrifies you. Either way, I hope you channel those emotions into action.

A website has come to my attention, and now to yours, that displays everyone's personal information -- home addresses, home phone numbers (even if unlisted), as well as satellite photos of your home. Worse yet, extensive personal information, even the names and addresses of your relatives and their personal information, can be purchased for a nominal fee.

I didn't see the detailed information myself because I'm not going to help support this diabolical website. However, I received that information from an extremely reliable source -- a police officer, who learned the hard way that undesirable folks can easily find you or your children with the click of a mouse. Just so you understand my outrage, like the police officer, I also discovered this website the hard way. By going public, I'm hoping to help bring this website down -- and all others like it -- so no one else learns the hard way that there's no such thing as privacy anymore in this country.

Finding my own address and unlisted phone number there was upsetting. But consider the horrifying implications for hundreds of thousands of others: police officers. Parole officers. Victims of spousal abuse or rape. Anyone who has ever testified against someone in court. Anyone who has ever hoped that someone who's behind bars stays behind bars. If you fall into one of those categories, guess what -- your whereabouts and personal information, as well as those of your loved ones, are there for the taking.

Even more infuriating, the website smugly claims it's within its legal rights to invade your privacy and brags on its homepage, "Tell everyone you know about (name omitted).com... Purchase a Background Check today to be guaranteed unlimited access to (name omitted) people search throughout 2005!" So, I'm complying. I'm telling everyone I know about this website. But probably not in the way "name" hoped. This repugnant website hides behind freedom of information laws and gleans information from public records. However, freedom of information has collided with right to privacy. Right to privacy must prevail. Imagine how many people will become victims of violence, harassment and identity theft if this is allowed to go on. It must change. But it's not enough to shut down this website. It's not the only one. The law itself must change, and it won't change unless we make it change.

Call or write your representatives. Don't send email. A voice or piece of paper gets their attention. Insist that the law that allows our personal information to be displayed on a website, let alone purchased by unidentified people for unidentified reasons must be changed. I suggest that no personal information be released to anyone unless it's done in writing at a county records office, with proper identification and a fee of at least $10 per request. That'll slow 'em down. Further, the person whose information was requested must be notified and the inquirer identified.

I purposely did not name the website because I don't want to bring it to the attention of people who have no legitimate business using it. However, I'll provide it to anyone I already know personally. If you want the website's name, contact me, and if you know me, you already know how. If I don't know you, contact your police department and they can give you the name. If they don't know it, they should. For their own safety. Refer them to the Winters Police Department for more information. When you have the name, file a complaint against this website with the Federal Trade Commission: (877) 382-4357. The agent I spoke with told me that the only way to shut it down is for the FTC to get volumes of complaints. Let's get voluminous. In the meantime, write to your representatives: Congressman Mike Thompson, 231 Cannon Building, Washington DC, 20515-0501, (530) 662-5272; Senator Barbara Boxer, 112 Hart Senate Office Building, Washington DC, 20510, (415) 403-0100; Senator Dianne Feinstein, 331 Hart Senate Office Building, Washington DC, 20510, (415) 393-0707. If you live outside Northern California, you will have to find the names and contact information for your own area. Make some noise. And keep making it until they listen.

Post your remarks about this column on Debra's web board


View all messages at the Message Board