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Chapter 6. PRIVACY AND UNCLE SAM > PUBLIC AGENCIES AND YOU

PUBLIC AGENCIES AND YOU

Private Lives, Public Information

The Annoyance:

I thought I led a fairly private life. Then I got into a dispute with a business partner, who decided to tweak me by sending me a dossier he'd compiled about me—the names and birthdates of my children, some quiet property investments I'd made, and the details of my very messy divorce. Is this legal?

The Fix:

It is. Not only is all of that public information, but in most states it would be illegal to conceal this information from the general public. Birth and death, marriage and divorce, home and business ownership, nearly every major rite of passage is considered part of the public record in most states. Until fairly recently, this information was hard to get at. Most of these records were kept in dusty credenzas in the bowels of county courthouses; anyone who wanted a look had to ask to see your paper file, and if they wanted to take the record home they had to make photocopies or scribble down the information by hand. Now, thanks to the wonder of the Web, many of these records are available easily—and often for a modest fee—online (see Table 6-1).


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