THE VIRGINIA WATCHDOG
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CORRECTION posted 2/11/06...
01/11/06 Virginia General Assembly session starts today and a bill relating to Circuit Court Clerk's records/SSNs just introduced by Virginia Del. Samuel A. Nixon, Jr. falls short
HB 563 introduced by VA. Del. Sam Nixon, Jr. fails to hit the mark, but at least it's more than any other legislator has put in yet. Virginia legislators fail miserably when it comes to protecting Virginia citizens' SSNs that in many instances are in the Circuit Court Clerk's "land records." A "land" record means all types of deeds including mortgage papers, federal and state tax liens, child support enforcement liens, overdue student loan liens, judgments, powers of attorney, financing statements (UCCs), mechanic liens, final divorce decrees (since they contain "name change" documents), marriage licenses, guardianship papers, etc. They all relate to "title" of land.
When you read how the law is currently in Paragraph A it appears as if all those six things mentioned there would be protected, but that paragraph is GUTTED by Paragraph D 1. People usually just read Paragraph A and then think those six items are protected when in reality they are NOT. The Virginia Senate gutted/trashed a bill dealing with this issue in 2003. Here's how those six things are NOT protected because of what the Senate did in 2003....
Nixon's current bill would allow people to send a written request to their clerk to remove their SSN, DOB, mother's maiden name, signature, financial account number, or minor child's name on a particular record (see paragraph D 1); however, that is making a major "assumption" that the citizens even know that a Circuit Court Clerk has made these records available via the internet. Plus that request for removal would become a "public" record also that the Clerks would have to maintain and ANYONE could request those under FOIA.
I have found in dealing with places like North Carolina and Florida that people still haven't a clue that the records are available online. But a recent law passed in Florida requires ALL CLERKS TO REMOVE ALL SSNs, credit card numbers, etc out of the records by next January 1, 2007. North Carolina just allows what Nixon's bill is intending to do. It puts the burden on the citizens to have to ask to have their SSN removed. North Carolina passed their bill this past September and it took effect Dec. 1, 2005.
In 2003, HB 2426 was passed in a gutted form which allowed the Clerks to put the records online with all the six things mentioned in paragraph A if they had a "secure" remote access site and got people to sign up, but is there really any such thing as a "secure" site? No there isn't. And it removes the sunset clause which would have killed the whole law in 2007, thereby the signup scheme remains and the records will continue to go online in the other 105 or so localities.
Plus Nixon's bill takes out the July 1, 2006 date for the Clerks to go online with the records found in COV 17.1-279 but it only says "It is the intent....". It doesn't say SHALL. That is a meaningless clause.
Why do these Clerks have an eight year term with their hefty state salaries which are often supplemented with money from the City or Town Councils or Board of Supervisors. Why doesn't some Delegate or Senator put in a bill to change their term to a four year term? (More coming on the Clerks and audits of their offices in another article.)
What people don't know is that the Clerks "MAY" provide internet access under COV 17.1-225 - it doesn't say "SHALL."
There are only about 14 clerks online right now in VA but Rockingham County is scheduled to go "remote" by the end of this month and ANYONE can sign up. Yes, ANYONE can sign up. That is the law in Virginia. And when ANYONE signs up, then they can print out records 'til the cows come home for all their friends... It's an identity thief's dream. The Clerks say they can trace who used the system, but they can't trace WHO may commit identity theft. Someone could print out records then throw them in the trash and the trash man or someone on the street may find them and then use them to commit fraud or worse. At least people should have to go to some trouble to get those records and not be spoon fed them!
When the records go online in a locality here's whose home addresses and other personal info you can/will be able to find: cabinet appointees, elected officials, sheriff and deputies, Game Wardens, bailiffs, jailers, FBI/CIA agents, magistrates, state police, town police, fire department volunteers/employees, judges, zoning enforcement officials, doctors (like psychiatrists who don't want their patients knowing where they live), nurses, abused women, the elderly like widows/widowers, minor children, students' real home addresses (and not just a college dorm/apt. address), and the list goes on and on... What happened to HOMELAND SECURITY?
Rockingham County/Harrisonburg's Circuit Court Clerk's office will be making available online many notables' records who have SSNs on a document (or two or three) - one example being the mayor of Bridgewater. Wonder if people such as Bridgewater Mayor Hallie Dinkel knows his and his wife's SSNs are on a Deed of Trust next to their signatures and will soon be available to ANYONE who pays $50 a month to sit in their homes 24/7 and find them?
People going thru records in that office yesterday were title examiners and paralegals who may soon be out of a job since you don't have to be within the confines of the county - or even the state - to sign up for access. Fairfax County has over 1,200 subscribers paying $25 a month for access to over 26 million records and about 10 million SSNs from as far away as California. What a boon to identity thieves! But it's up to the citizens of this state to get involved and make their legislators DO something.
Here is one example of a record with SSNs on it gotten from Fairfax. Virginia legislators wanted his SSN to be online along with millions of others so here it is and more will be coming on this website from other counties. Here's an example of a record out of Virginia Beach and here's an example of a record out of King George County...
Stay tuned. More EXAMPLES coming...
(c) 2003 Ostergren, P.C. (Page Format Only)