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Public Records: Transparency vs Privacy

If you think the debate of public records is bad a decade ago, then you better brace yourself for 2020, because it’s only getting heated. As we all know, the federal, state, and local governments have been keeping records of Americans for decades.

An individual lifespan is recorded by the government ranging from birth to death, including marriages, divorces, works, property ownership, criminal offenses, and many more. The list goes on and is far from complete, but most of the records are open for public inspection.

Therefore, it raises the question of whether public records serve as something to promote the transparency of others, or is it crossing the line of people’s privacy.

Public Record Then and Now

Taking a step back, we can juggle these arguments and see the perspective they are going from. Until recently, public records were hard to get your hands on because they were only available locally. Finding information about a person usually leads to a treasure hunt throughout the country in multiple offices to dig up records.

That’s why in movies dated around 10 years ago, you’d see the protagonist going on a mission at several places to obtain information, while most movies nowadays involve hackers to obtain the information needed. The Internet revolution has made public records to be more accessible than it was before.

Transparency

An Individual

Looking from the perspective of an organization with a job vacancy, the transparency of an individual’s public record can play a big role. For employers, they mostly conduct pre-employment background checks to uphold a safe working space for their workers, guests, and clients, in accordance with the laws and regulations.

Prior criminal acts committed by employees, such as murder, rape, assault, and drug dealing, can cause safety violations or hurt co-workers. On top of that, most employers will do a background check to filter applicants with bad work etiquette and truant on the job. This transparency of public records helps employers to minimize the probability of work hazards as well as hiring bad employees.

Advertised work vacancy will receive hundreds or thousands of applicants at a time. A decade or two ago, the company would hold interviews to verify the applicant’s credentials. However, the transparency of public records helps to filter out applicants in two major
aspects.

Firstly, is verifying the identity of the applicants, to check if the person applying is using a real name, is a citizen, or is the person they claimed to be. Secondly are their credentials, in which certain jobs will require certain credentials and qualifications, employers will be able to check whether the applicants have the right skill and knowledge for the job. This public records transparency route will help many organizations to find the person that they would like to hire.

An Organization

Transparency of public records is not limited to a person but also involves an organization. First and foremost, public records help you to verify if the company is a legitimate company or not. Using public records, you also will be able to track the company’s Annual Report as well as their press release. This helps people to deviate away from applying to a company that has scandals with the laws or a company that is unable to pay your salary on time.

Most publicly-traded companies can be searched through websites such as http://Forbes.com/peopletracker and http://www.sec.gov/edgar.shtml. For smaller companies with no websites, you can check their status through the state corporate filings.

The Government

As a citizen of the United States, the right of access to public records help us in terms of making political decisions such as voting. You have the right to know about the candidates running for office and their credibility to uphold the responsibility to govern. Public records of government will help with promoting confidence in the political system and to oversee the accountability for the government programs.

In addition, you can also seek services provided by the government to assist in the conduct of business, legal, or personal affairs. Economic growth can also be obtained by using the information provided by the government and manipulating them as resources and materials.

Privacy

The advance of technology, shrinking of privacy

In this Information Age, the regulation of public records needs to be reviewed with the consideration of new technologies. Even by observing our surroundings, we can see how much advancement we made for the past decades. Everything is within the tip of our fingertip, figuratively, and literally.

In the past, the public was easily able to access the records of an individual kept by the government at the local courthouse. Nowadays, with the increase of information obtained from one person, public records may expose private information that could cause harm to the individual. Open access to the public record can lead to major exploitation of a person’s information.

Physical crime

Nowadays, if one can access the birth record of another, they can easily obtain the name, date of birth, place of birth, and parent’s full name and age. 20 years ago, this information might not draw as much attention as it did, but nowadays in an era of pins and passwords, their birthday, their mother’s maiden name is an important piece of information as many financial institutions, as well as other online platforms, use it as password access.

An example is one’s address which is accessible through public records. Physical threats such as robbery or receiving unknown mails may also increase through access to this particular information.

Not only this information exposes one’s vulnerability to stalkers, but it also poses a lethal threat if such information falls into the hands of pedophiles, human traffickers, and much more. Criminal cases of kids or teenagers meeting up or sharing addresses with their ‘online friend’ have shown that this basic information has potent lethality if given on the wrong hand.

Cyber Crime

Our daily lives, whether at home or at work, revolves around the internet. It is one of the perks of the Information Age, where access to the cyber world becomes more of a need instead of a want. This reality translates to more time on the internet which means longer historical information made available for hackers and identity thieves. Information such as geological data, IP address logins, and more are just waiting for hackers to consume.

The growth of digitization of documents and usage of electronic filing has led to the accessibility of records online. That’s why in today’s era, we hear about a lot of cybercrimes such as identity theft.

In fact, a study by Proofpoint in 2019 shows that 33% of Americans have experienced identity theft, which is more than the global average. These cybercrimes are possible because the public records gave more information for them to analyze, as well as the negligence of the person to secure their information online.