Sunday, October 16, 2005

Activist against SSNs in online public records

Today's Arizona Daily Star has a profile of B.J. Ostergren, who has a mission to get social security numbers and other sensitive personal information out of public records that are made available (much of it online) by all levels of government. Her tactics include finding the SSNs of the powerful and posting them on her site:

Counties putting your private data online | The Arizona Daily Star

B.J. Ostergren, a Virginia activist, has fished out from the public records the Social Security numbers of dignitaries ranging from CIA Director Porter Goss to Florida Gov. Jeb Bush in an effort to persuade politicians of the dangers of posting the information online.

She's also ferreted out the Social Security number for Rep. Tom DeLay, R-Texas, which is mentioned on a 1980 tax lien the IRS filed against him. Local clerks dutifully filed the lien against DeLay's property with his local tax records because a lien is something that must be cleared up before the property can be sold.

In the past this information has been available for anyone willing to trek down to the courthouse and leaf through public land records or the proceedings of divorce courts. But thanks to the Internet age, public records are now put online to make it easier for anyone with a computer anywhere around the world to retrieve them.

"It's putting our country at great danger," said Ostergren, who has posted some of the Social Security numbers she's retrieved on her Web site at

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