When Does Accessibility Become Too Intrusive?

Have you registered to vote? With the upcoming mid-term election just around the corner, you really need to make sure your voter registration information is up to date.

Did you know many states offer the ability to check your voter registration information online? Did you know those same states make it easy for anyone, anywhere, to view your voter registration information?

Last night I mentioned I had found a serious security issue on a local website. In the past 8 hours I have found that many states have the same security issue on their websites offering you the chance to “check your voter registration information”.

We all know that our voter registration information is public record, but with the Internet, how accessible should individual information be?

Before these online tools were made available to literally anyone in the world, there was a process in obtaining voter registration information. The process varied a bit from state to state, but in most cases you had to visit the county clerk or registrars office, make a request for the state or county voter roll information, and obtain the printout (or in some cases a disc with the information). In many states, those requests have to be made in writing and obtaining the voter registration of one individual is usually not permitted.

Political candidates obtain voter registration lists all the time, why do you think we get all of those political mailers this time of year? It’s not Earth shattering news to know your voter registration information is out there for anyone to see. What might shock you, however, is how easy it is to find individual information for just about anyone.

While catching up on Twitter last night, I noticed a link to a local news website. The link referred to a new tool, My Voter Page, on our Secretary of State’s website which allows citizens to look up their voter registration information online.

Just seconds later I was looking at my own information. I quickly realized how easy it was to obtain my information. All I needed was my first initial, my last name, my birthday, and the county I reside in. Pretty easy huh? It’s so easy you can do it too, and so can anyone else who might want to spend five minutes looking up information about you on the Internet. They could have titled the website, “My Stalker Page”.

For many people, this will not be an issue. It’s public information, so who cares, right? But this could be a huge issue for some people.

For example, let’s say you are a woman who has been battered and abused and you are attempting to remain hidden from the person responsible for the beatings. With or without a restraining order, that person can use the online tools from their state to find you.

Sure, it may take them a few tries if they don’t know which county you are living in (or in some cases, your zip code), but they can find you after a few attempts. Although your voter registration information is part of the public record, it isn’t likely that your abuser is going to walk into the local county clerk’s office and make a written request (and pay) for the entire voter registration list in order to obtain your address information. There is nothing stopping him from doing it on the internet. No checks, no balances, just information free flowing on the information superhighway.

Here is the information I pulled up from the New York State Board of Elections website after performing two quick searches on Google for some information beforehand.

 

Granted, former President Bill Clinton is a public figure, blah blah blah, do you really think I was going to use the information from a battered or abused woman in my example?

Some states have an added layer of security, such as requiring your Social Security Number, Driver’s License number, or house number, but many do not.

The easy accessibility of this information could have huge ramifications on the voting public. If a battered or abused woman has serious concerns about her safety and the safety of her children, she must now seriously consider whether or not she wants to register to vote. Doing so could put all of her information in the hands of the person responsible for that abuse in the first place.

What if someone is stalking you? Your stalker now has easy, immediate access to your current residential information at their fingertips.

Here is another example. A young woman is constantly being harassed by a former co-worker at the building where she works. She gets a restraining order requiring him to stay 500 feet away from her and the property. How long do you think it will take until he finds her home address? In many cases, it wouldn’t take more than five minutes.

Like I said before, many people are not going to see this as an issue, but I don’t think people realize just how easy it is to find this information for just about anyone using nothing but the online tools provided for reviewing your own voter registration information.

I spent 30 minutes looking up elected officials from many different states, local news reporters and anchors, and a variety of other public figures. One Google search, one news article, and two guesses on the county information. That’s all it took to find the address for Monica Kaufman Pearson, longtime anchorwoman for WSB-TV.

It didn’t take much work at all to find any of the information for these people, but what about private citizens?

Believe it or not, it didn’t take much to find records for several random people I found on Facebook. Within minutes I was looking at voter registration information of a friend in South Carolina, a classmate I haven’t seen in almost 30 years who lives in South Dakota, family members in Georgia and Kentucky, and acquaintances in three other states.

Other than my family members, I did not have direct access to most of the pertinent information for the people I looked up. I found all of the information needed for the online tools using Google and Facebook.

Battered women, stalking victims, people worried about identity theft, and everyone else, should be concerned about the accessibility of this information. Many of these websites have no security check in place before the dissemination of this individual information is permitted.

In fact, in most states if you want to obtain voter information “the old fashioned way” you have to request the voter information list for your county or the entire state. Most states do not offer single record inquiries for voter information, and those same states charge a fee for the lists they do provide.

So why is it so easy to look up individual voter information on the Internet? Many items and documents are part of the public record, but they aren’t necessarily available freely without concern for security, on the Internet.

In many states, vehicle registration information is part of the public record. I receive my vehicle registration renewal in the mail every year. That renewal notice contains a special code I have to enter if I want to lookup, change, or renew my vehicle registration online. The special code provides a layer of security to make sure access to my information online is somewhat protected.

The public record contains birth certificates, death certificates, bankruptcy filings, and much, much, more. Imagine if they let you look up anyone’s birth certificate information simply based on their name, birthday, and birth location? Checking police records online from LexisNexis makes it easy and is extremely helpful.

Why isn’t there some layer of security when viewing individual voter registration information, especially when personal address information is included in the record?

Needless to say, it’s not honest people like you and me that will be using these tools in a nefarious way to obtain address information on individuals.

So, is this really a big deal?

It definitely is if you’re a victim of abuse, the subject of a stalker, or if you have legitimate concerns about readily accessible voter registration information that is not available on an individual one record basis anywhere else, online or otherwise.