The use of public records, data and information by individuals, governments and businesses is a topic that’s not without controversy. But before we cast any shadows on the amount of information that could be available about you on the web, let’s explore the benefits of using public records and how this data could help you as an information seeker.
What are public records?
It’s important to distinguish the difference between public records, public information and private information. Public records are records kept by various government entities, and may include court proceedings, arrest records, property records, among other types of records. Public information is, generally speaking, any information or data that someone has chosen to share publicly on a platform. Social media, job recruiting websites, personal blogs, community forums are all examples of “places” where public information may be found online. Private information is non-public, personal data that is typically protected by law—healthcare records, Social Security numbers, and bank account numbers would fall under this category.
Common types of public records include:
- Court records
- Bankruptcy records
- Arrest records
- Marriage and divorce records
- Real estate and property records
- Corporation and LLC ownership
How can public records help consumers?
Gone are the days of waiting in line at the county clerk’s office, driving to the courthouse, or sifting through piles of paper records. Just as the digital age has changed the way we shop, connect and consume information, so too has it changed our access to public records. Public records can now be searched online. Anything from birth certificates to vehicle information to construction plans on a new highway and beyond can readily be available at our fingertips.
What was once an archaic system of information catalogued in different places can now be found online. Whether a person is looking to reconnect with family, look up property information, buy or sell a vehicle, access to millions of digitized public records allows them to potentially find the information faster.
How can public records help businesses?
Public records don’t only benefit individuals; they can also make a major impact on businesses.
Real estate agents could benefit from newly developed property databases. New property records searches only require an address —rather than mandate status, price, and area as previously required. Small business entrepreneurs may be able to build out a more robust customer database with current address information. This can now be done online with a level of ease like never before.
As the demand for data grows and the technology for accessing this data is enhanced, more information becomes available. Public records can be used to explore property information, government data, and information on residents to get an understanding of areas that could impact your business function. Access to data like this could help identify areas where your business could prosper and areas to pull back.
Technology and Public Records
When making data readily available online, there can be privacy and security concerns over personal private data or information or records that may be classified or restricted due to certain clearances. Data breaches, hacks, and other cybercrime have led the way for certain consumer protections but not all.
For personal privacy concerns, it’s important to understand that any and all information that you make available about yourself online can be used, stored, and potentially shared depending on where and how you’re sharing information. Always check the privacy settings or agreements before opting into apps, social media platforms, and other web-connected services. You may be giving the right for these companies or agencies to do whatever they want with your data. Online users may want to take steps to make sure their hardware and software are protected for online activities as well.
Businesses should have a cybersecurity playbook that outlines guidelines for employees to follow to create a secure workforce and prevent any loss of private information related to financials, personnel, and other data that is protected by law.
Rather than viewing public records and information as a “Big Brother” concern, those seeking information should learn that leveraging this type of information can be more beneficial than not. Information seekers could and should be more aware of how they can use the information that is available to inspire change and growth in their communities, rather than worrying about who may know where you worked ten years ago based on data scraped from an old Myspace page. It is also important to note that the availability of public records will vary by county, state, and country.