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PRIVACY Forum Digest     Friday, 3 November 2000     Volume 09 : Issue 23


            Moderated by Lauren Weinstein (         
              Vortex Technology, Woodland Hills, CA, U.S.A.
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        Texas Government Web Site Reveals Voters' Home Addresses and More
           (Lauren Weinstein; PRIVACY Forum Moderator)

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     Quote for the day:

        "You have to open graves to find girls to fall 
         in love with?"

                -- Helen Grosvenor (Zita Johann)
                   "The Mummy" (Universal; 1932)


Date:    Fri, 03 Nov 2000 17:56:57 PST
From: (Lauren Weinstein; PRIVACY Forum Moderator)
Subject: Texas Government Web Site Reveals Voters' Home Addresses and More

Greetings.  During the current election cycle, conflicts between the use of
voter registration information and individual privacy concerns have appeared
a number of times.  These have highlighted the rapid pace with which
technology has taken data that is traditionally "public record" in nature,
and resulted in some very non-traditional impacts on individuals.  I've
written previously here in the PRIVACY Forum about commercial use of voter
registration data and related data-matching with Web activities (please see:

But today I learned of a remarkably egregious example of poorly-controlled
voter registration data -- a government-run Web site that even now would
seem to have the potential not only to violate people's privacy
expectations, but to put some individuals at physical risk as well.

In the state of Texas, as in many states, citizens are encouraged to
"automatically" register to vote when they go in to renew their motor vehicle
driving licenses.  But in the county of Denton, Texas you may get even more
than you bargained for.  In Denton County, you apparently get your home
address, gender, and other information listed in a public Web database
that can be accessed by anyone, anywhere, for any reason from snoopiness to

The Denton County, Texas Voter Registration Database Search page:

allows any Web user to submit a query with no identifying information other
than the target's first and last name, and their year of birth.  The "year
of birth" field, apparently a ludicrous attempt at security, can of course
be trivially guessed through trial and error.

The database then returns the person's full name (special bonus -- you often
get the complete middle name!), their registration address (which would
typically be their home address), their complete date of birth (month,
day, year), and their voter registration certificate number.  Click on that
number, and you get more information, including their gender. 

This is perhaps the most vivid example I've seen of why we need to
immediately take a long, hard look at the "public record" status of this
sort of information.  To have such data available without even a modicum of
a "need to know" requirement, and then to publish it to the world via the
Web, is breathtaking in its risks.  Any number of persons in sensitive
professions, persons involved in domestic disputes, or individuals in a
range of other situations could potentially be seriously, physically
compromised by the ease with which home addresses can be obtained via this
system.  Many of these persons might have assumed that they had protected
their home addresses by not listing them in the local phone books.  Plus, the
database's providing of complete birth date and full middle name could be
handy for identity fraud.

I attempted to reach Denton County, Texas officials to discuss this matter,
but was not successful. 

It's bad enough that this is happening right now in Texas, but unless there
are some immediate changes in how we treat such data, we can expect to see
similar Web-accessible databases in other areas around the country.  I
wouldn't be at all surprised if other municipalities already have plans to
deploy such systems (or already have them up and running).

Registering to vote should not necessitate the surrender of 
basic privacy rights!

Lauren Weinstein or or
Co-Founder, PFIR: People For Internet Responsibility -
Moderator, PRIVACY Forum -
Member, ACM Committee on Computers and Public Policy


End of PRIVACY Forum Digest 09.23

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