Your privacy is under siege. Every day we shed digital metadata like dandruff as we use our phones, connected IOT gadgets, shop online or at a corner store, or use social media. There is no possible way to ever completely remove your digital presence from the connected world.
Our digital profiles consist of massive amounts of information that is often readily available, plus an even larger iceberg of data that, figuratively, lurk in dim basements on the Dark Web. We're not just dealing with our social media, gaming, or forum contributions here. Much of the state and federal government data are classified as public records and are easily accessible to all internet users.
Anyone who can type a name into a search bar can find enough info about you to make a snap judgment of your character - right or wrong. It’s critical to delete inaccurate, outdated, or damaging information from as many sources as possible, and to do that you need to know how to remove public records.
What are Public Records?
The term public record refers to any information that is recorded and stored in a way that makes it accessible to the general public. Public records include personal data such as birth certificates, marriage licenses, death certificates, title deeds, mortgages, and property taxes, and can therefore generally not be removed or destroyed.
What are the dangers of public records?
Public records that are too easy to obtain are a bonanza for bad actors who can sift through the details of child custody, bankruptcy, and divorce cases for things like Social Security Numbers (SSNs) and bank account information. Birthdates and other personally identifiable information (PII) is also easy to obtain.
Why are public records available online?
Since the Freedom of Information Act passed in 1967, all US Government agencies must release certain information upon formal request. Nowadays, all federal civil court records, criminal charges, and state, city, and county records appear online at websites like pacer.gov. For state-specific information on who has access to public court records, see the NCSC page here.
Government agencies upload their files to official government websites to provide an easy interface for people who legitimately need specific information. Unfortunately, hackers and data scrapers use automated methods to lift large amounts of data from websites. They convert the data into spreadsheets (database) and sell it to data vultures.
Data brokers and people-search sites
People-search sites have lately proliferated like mushroom spawn in rich compost. Whenever you use a person's name as a search term you are bound to find loads of sites that claim to have the gritty lowdown on the person of interest.
These sites get their information from those data vultures who are dubious sources at best, to publish it without your permission to attract the curious.
What are the risks of unrestricted publishing of public information?
Once these operators get a hold of your PII, you will forever be at greater risk of:
Identity Theft: An identity thief harvests personal information to create false identities for sinister purposes. Why make their jobs easier?
Damage to your reputation: People-search sites seldom check their information. Careless data handling often merges different people’s information, resulting, for example, in adding criminal charges to innocent people’s records.
Swatting Risk: A neighbor with a grudge may make a false emergency call to law enforcement, resulting in injury or the arrest of innocent people. Your house can’t be swatted if your home address isn’t available online.
Stalking or Harassment (both on- and offline): A Pew Research Center study of online harassment found that 62% of Americans consider online harassment a major problem, and four in ten have personally experienced it.
Can you remove public records from Google search results?
Public records are very hard to delete. Only certain types of information may be eligible for expunging or sealing, and then only for a very good reason. After all, records about arrests, bankruptcy, judgments, liens, lawsuits, and foreclosures should be public as a method to provide transparency by the governing to the governed.
Removal of public criminal records
Depending on your state, you may be able to clear criminal records via expungement (variously referred to as cleaning your record with a dismissal, or setting aside a conviction). Expunging the record removes convictions from a person’s criminal record, or seals the person’s criminal record from public view.
These mechanisms can increase people’s access to better employment, education, or housing, as a growing number of states and jurisdictions are making certain types of criminal records eligible for expungement and sealing.
Removal of public arrest records
If someone is arrested but not convicted of a crime it may be possible to expunge (or seal) the record, unless the person in question has had another record expunged in the past.
Removal of public marriage records
You cannot seal your marriage record after you’ve married, but you can use a confidential marriage license in the event of a future marriage. While the marriage will be recorded but the information will be sealed from public view.
Removal of bankruptcy from your credit report
A fraudulent bankruptcy due to identity theft or a clerical error can be removed upon application to the court for a written statement that verifies that you do not have a bankruptcy on file. You’ll have to send a dispute letter to each of the major credit bureaus.
If a bankruptcy on your credit report is legitimate it can’t be removed before the 7 years for a Chapter 13 bankruptcy (or 10 years for a Chapter 7 bankruptcy), unless you find a technical error in the bankruptcy listing. You can attempt to correct the error, hoping that the error may be sufficient to remove the bankruptcy listing due to a technicality.
Removal of a tax lien from your credit report
A tax lien can stay on your credit report indefinitely while it is unpaid. Some credit bureaus may remove an unpaid tax lien after ten years.
How to set the record straight afterward
Once you’ve removed or sealed the damaging information, you’ll need to contact each internet data source to delete the outdated information from their database. This tedious, difficult process might take several years because the old information will keep lurking in the dark web basement forever and will keep popping up every time a data broker sells your information.
The multitude of people search sites is one of the causes of this artificial circulation of low-quality data. They often make the removal procedure difficult, costly, and a never-ending struggle.
It can be highly advantageous to use an automated opt-out and data scrubbing tool to deal with the initial removal request as well as the inevitable additional rounds when the information reappears a few months later. Onerep uses a custom-built automated application for this jolly game of whack-a-mole.
It won’t be fast or easy, even with a professional reputation management tool, but incorrect or outdated information on your digital profile can destroy your career, end a promising romance, or make life hard for your kids.