Let's talk about the public record, and the information age, and the information that we routinely allow other people to see. It seems that some congressional staffers are upset because an outfit called LegiStorm is compiling feeds from various sources on those staffers and putting it all into one easy-to-use package.
We live in an information age, and the angst of the congressional staffers is understandable, but many folks don't realize how much information we readily make available to the public through the internet. This blog, for example, is open to the public. I've put it out there and if you surf through it you'll get a pretty good idea of my likes and dislikes. I work for a governmental agency, so my salary is public record. I am married, so that information is available as public record. I bought a home and that transaction is public record. I have a Facebook page and it's not shielded from public view. I don't use a Twitter account, but many folks do, and if you don't make that information private, it's out there too.
The simple fact is that what we consider "public record" was once only available by going down to the Court House and digging through musty tomes. Nowadays, much of that information is available online and when you start cross-referencing that information with the information that we willingly put on the internet, a dedicated researcher can come up with a fairly accurate profile.
I don't feel sorry for the Congressional staffers. They put the information out there, and the folks at LegiStorm are simply compiling it from a combination of public sources. However, their angst should be instructive to us as a society. There is a huge amount of information readily available
There was this kid, back in 2002-03, who went to the high school where I work. Back in those days the kids were using something called Zanga, which was a web-service that worked somewhat like Facebook does today. The kids would put up a page and other kids would comment on it. I started surfing kids pages, and one day saw some un-complimentary information regarding me, myself. So, I commented on the information. The kid came to me later, truly upset that I was reading his personal page. I explained to the young'un that his page was on the World Wide Web and that he had put the information out there. Anyone with a computer and an internet connection could use that information for whatever purposes they desired.
It's a powerful lesson for all of us, especially for persons who work in the public sphere.. If you want to be a powerful person and use Twitter and Facebook and LinkedIn to show other folks how connected you are, don't be surprised if someone uses the information that you so readily trumpet to the world. It's called the World Wide Web, and you put it out there.