From: Norman Kraft
Subject: Privacy alert - San Diego voters on CD
Date: 8 Jun 92 18:31:33 GMT
Organization: Argus Computing, San Diego, CA
An article that made the front page of the San Diego Union on Sunday,
June 7, 1992 bore the title: "Technology pits privacy vs. Information
Age". The article starts with these paragraphs:
The morning after Bill Turner voted in last week's election, he picked up a copy of a local computer magazine and his jaw dropped. "This ad just jumped
out and hit me in the face," said the 35-year old La Mesa computer programmer.
"It was a severe shock." There, for sale, were Turner's name, address,
unlisted telephone number, occupation, birthplace, birthdate and political
A list of San Diego County's 1.25 million registered voters containing the
information is available for $99 in a relatively new format [CD-ROM] that
virtually anyone with a personal computer can use. It is the first known such
use of voter registration data in the nation.
The CD-ROM is marketed by a San Diego company call Sole Source Systems, a local
Lists of voter information have always been available, and political campaigns
have had access to the information on data tapes for years. This is, however,
the first time that such information has been made available to the public at
large, in an easily accessible format (dBase, from what I can gather).
Sole Source says that use of the CD is limited to "election purposes,
...election, scholarly or political research, or government purposes." Sole
Source says that they require ID and the completion of a form before selling
the CD. Turner responds to this with "What is there to prevent me from going
up there and telling him I'm with the Little Old Ladies Auxilliary 97, and I
want this list to call people up and help arrange transportation to the polls
on Election Day? It would be a bald-faced lie, but I would get it [the CD]."
He may be right, as Conny McCormack, the San Diego County Registrar of Voters
says that the registrar's office does not check to make sure the list is being
used within the law, primarily because "we have no authority in that area."
David Banisar, a policy analyst with Computer Professionals for Social
Responsibilities in Washington, DC, said in all likelihood the CD would end up
in the hands of direct marketers. "This is really an unanticipated use of the
data," he said, "You register to vote because you want to feel patriotic and do
your citizen's duty and try to get some good government. You don't register to
vote so that you can be solicited by every bozo out there with a widget that he
feels he should hock to you."
The article goes on to discuss the problems of privacy in the computer age, and
mentions two other CD-ROM databases that are publicly available: PhoneDisc USA,
from a corporation of the same name in Marblehead, Mass., lists 90 million
names, addresses and phone numbers nation wide. MetroScan CD, from
Transamerica Information Management in Sacramento, is a database containing
housing ownership information, from deed filings, and for a given address
provides the owner's name, address, when the building was purchased, how many
bedrooms and bathrooms it has, how many square feet it has, and it's property
In the article, Ken Smith, from Transamerica Information Magagement,
is quoted as saying:
"I'm very much in favor of making the information, if it's in the
public domain, available to a very wide audience, rather than just
major corporations and government agencies. It's a very, very
powerful tool for the little guy."
"I don't think the privace issue has been a concern yet. I can
see where it might be in the future, but it's not a problem now."
Finally the article goes back to Dante Tuccero, from PhoneDisc USA Corp.,
listing such PhoneDisc customers as "the U.S. Drug Enforcement
Administration, the Navy, the Air Force, the Social Security
Administration, as well as local libraries and law enforcement, public
investigators, geneologists, and even high school and college reunions."
Quoting Tuccero, "There's a company in Langley, Va,. that uses it, I
believe, but wouldn't say so."
The last paragraphs of the article point out that "the direct-mail company
that provides PhoneDisc with most of it's data prefers to remain off other
"We're not at liberty to share that," Tuccero said, "A lot of data
providers like to be low key."
The saddest part of the whole article, in my opinion, is this statement
from Turner: "I have voted in every election since I was 18, and I think
(this) was the last election I'll ever vote in."
[For those concerned about the PhoneDisc listings, they will remove your
name from the next release of their CD if you call. They claim that only
two people have called so far. I imagine we can change that! Their
number in Marblehead, Mass. is available from directory assistance.]
Norman R. Kraft, Senior Partner, Argus Computing, San Diego, CA