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The Lives of Three Citizens -- as Told and Sold on a County Website

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News for Public Officials examined documents indexed to three citizens on one county website. The documents are typical of documents that you can find on county websites across the country. They are the deeds, mortgages, and other records local citizens pay the county to preserve inside the courthouse.

We never visited the Fort Bend County Courthouse, but instead used the convenient remote access the county clerk provides to anyone with a connection to the Worldwide Web. Here are three stories derived from the 20 million or so stories offered by the Fort Bend County site.

Tom's Story

Tom is nationally well-known.

The information we found on the Fort Bend County Clerk's site tells much more about Tom than any legitimate news agency would ever publish. The site documents Tom's social security number, home address and gives us several examples of his signature. It provides his wife's full name including her maiden name. We also found Tom's wife's mothers maiden name, Tom's daughter's full name and that of her husband. If you haven't guessed already, Tom is Congressman Thomas Dale DeLay.

Joe's Story

Joe is a very well-known businessman in Fort Bend County. We changed Joe's name to protect his security. His real name and sensitive information is published on the Fort Bend County Website. We found Joe's social security number, signature, and date of birth along with the bank account and routing numbers for two checking accounts. The financial information included a total of 21 accounts located in five cities. Certificates of Deposit, Money Market and other accounts were found complete with account numbers and authorized signatures.

Ellen's Story

Everything we know about Ellen, we learned from the Fort Bend County Site.

Ellen lived and worked in Harris County most of her life and only moved to Fort Bend County to be closer to her family. Ellen was born in 1917 and passed away a few years ago, but before she died, Fort Bend County Clerk Dianne Wilson published published the most intimate details of her life over the Internet. It's still there.

Ellen retired from the county on a $300-a-month pension.. The site provides her membership number with the Texas County and District Retirement System. Before retiring, Ellen invested wisely with Payne Webber under two separate account numbers also provided by the county site. By the year 2000, Ellen's assets had grown to a little over a half million dollars. Ellen's social security number and exact date of birth are included in the documents.

The documents identify Ellen's daughter, son, one son-in-law, three granddaughters, one grandson-in-law, a niece, a nephew and a son-in-law. Although Ellen was in failing health, she gave each of them cash gifts every Christmas from a special bank account.

Ellen suffered from cancer, dementia and Alzheimer's. She took Ticlopidine and Verapamil for heart problems and Cipro for urinary tract infections. When she was constipated, she took Bisacodyl. The Fort Bend County Clerk's site provides her prescription numbers and the contact information for her pharmacy, Lifechek # 1 in Rosenberg, along with her Medicare number. Her doctors are listed for easy reference.

Ellen's hairdresser was Rosemary from Tomball, Texas. You can find Rosemary's full name, phone, and pager numbers on the county site. Her gardener was a young man by the name of Johnny. Ellen was a consistent subscriber to the Houston Chronicle and enjoyed cable television through the services of Warner Cable.

Tom, Joe, and Ellen all deserve better than to have their documented lives thrust onto the Internet where they can be strip-searched by strangers all over the world. This policy may be convenient for local government but it facilitates terrorists and data miners far outside the local jurisdiction.

Is your county publishing the same information about you? Volunteer researchers at FindMyID.com are waiting to help you discover what your county is telling about you. The service is free and confidential.
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Called a "Patriot" by some and "One Angry Texan" by others, Mr. Bloys publishes News for Public Officials (and the people they serve).

A leading public records security expert, his research and comments have appeared in The New York (more...)
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