Friday, December 22, 2017


A friend sent me an email, amused that he had used one of those offers to find out everything about someone and had discovered that I had been ticketed for speeding twice, once in Idaho and once while traveling from Browning to Heart Butte.  I don’t know why he thought it was funny.  He said that since both happened decades ago, he figured I’d forgotten about them.  Maybe he thought I was going around being too smug and virtuous and needed to be taken down a notch.

The Idaho one was early on a summer morning.  I was starting a vacation and traveling blissfully on a scenic highway along a lake with a bluff on the other side.   The weather was gorgeous and I was high on going "home" to Montana.   I had just bought a new Paul Winter Consort tape with a lot of wailing on it and was listening with headphones.  I was singing with it and not looking in the rearview mirror as much as I ought to have.  Finally it seemed to me there were too many saxophones in the music and glancing in the rearview mirror, I saw flashing lights.

There weren’t many turnouts but I slowed down so the cop car could pass me easily.  There was no traffic at all.  Finally I did see a place to pull over.  I sat waiting to see the cop go past, but he didn’t.  Nor did he appear at my window for minutes.  Finally I stuck my head out and saw that he was coming up close to the side of the pickup with his gun drawn.  Both of us were on high alert.

It turned out that because I didn’t stop right away, he assumed I was connected to criminal activity the night before.  He was relieved to discover an old lady school teacher and I was relieved that he was relieved.  He wrote me a ticket because I WAS over the speed limit and because the delay before he came to the window was from radioing his dispatcher to alert her that he might be in danger.  Now he had to prove that he at least had a valid stop.

The other one was a Sunday morning when I was the Methodist minister pro-tem and headed to Heart Butte to lead morning services.  The highway patrol said frankly that though I was only a couple of miles over the limit, he had been told that he had to stop more white people to prove he wasn’t picking on tribal drivers.  He was delighted to get credit for me.

You would not get these stories by ordering data searches of public records.

Recently a new player on the idea of accumulating government data and selling the results has cropped up.  Try it on yourself, they urged, and you’ll be surprised.  In this new Gestapo era we’ve entered, I decided to try it.  The report was all wrong.  I was confused with someone else (a woman of color who lived back East), some of the places I’d lived were not on the list, and the people I was supposed to know were attached to an apartment building where none of us knew each other.  Mostly there were blanks.

When data is gathered from government sources (as opposed to social media) the majority of it is about birth, death, marriage and divorce because those are things that are traditionally recorded.  But now people move in and out of relationships without bothering to register with the county clerk.  Some women aren't sure who the fathers of their babies are.  Immigrants, esp. refugees, might have no documentation or memory of dates and places.

Most things that are recorded by governments are criminal offenses or property transfers.  Jurisdictions do not always share.  Reservations often are omitted from state records because the major offenses on tribal land are defined as federal.  On reservations (and elsewhere) people have multiple names and possibly unidentified parents.  Addresses might be fluid in the first place, since people don’t stay in one owned or assigned place, and may be remote enough to be identifiable only by GPS, a recent development.

Sex offenders are on a separate list, meant to be public so as to warn people, but they may range from high school kids to hard-core criminals.  Only land line telephone numbers are easily found and a cell phone might be anywhere and might be a “burner” anyway.  

Among the positive facts that can’t be picked up by the data crawlers are college degrees, teaching licenses, religious ordination and affiliation, uncompensated charitable work, awards and prizes.  So much of my data via these web trawlers is not there because of a decade in the ministry, and eight years (two 4-year stints) as a student.  (These facts hurt my Social Security totals, too.)  The two years I was a minister in Saskatoon are invisible, because these companies don’t go out of the US.  (I don’t know how they count Puerto Rico since the President doesn’t think it’s part of the US.)

Some of us have been shocked by the data-seining of social media, who can predict what kind of toothpaste you like and what size jeans you wear.  I once visited an insurance company office in Portland where the young male agent had just discovered he could access Bo Derek’s insured assets and was so blown away that he shared with me how many horses she had, what her cars were worth, etc.  It’s illegal to find out what books you’ve checked out of the library, but public knowledge (and you are urged to automatically tell your friends) on Amazon what books you bought.  Walmart and Target know which hemorrhoid cream you prefer, as well as how many condoms you use in a month.  Perineum privacy no longer exists.  In fact, marketers demand that you evaluate everything you buy.  (I refuse.)

My friends and relatives use Facebook in spite of the publicised abuses and invasions -- even government sanctions -- and I cannot convince them otherwise.  It’s not so much that they don’t believe me as that the info just doesn’t register.  Their eyes turn into pinwheels.

When I was an animal control officer in the Seventies, we could look up people's criminal records and we were fingerprinted ourselves.  After all, we were deputy sheriffs, though we didn’t carry guns.  (Some wanted to.)  This did not prevent the shelter attendants from dealing drugs, since they had access to them for euthanizing the animals.  When I was a city clerical specialist in the Nineties, I had access to property taxes, ownership transfers, liabilities and offenses, inspection results and lawsuits, and a lot of other information that made it possible for us to develop a list of slum landlords.  They were outraged.

If there is fear for bodily harm or serious financial damage, it seems to justify using these businesses that sell compiled public records, esp. of crimes and bankruptcies.  I didn’t put in the name of Donald Trump.  I can think of enough interesting prospects to while away a snowy December afternoon, but I’m already terrified enough about the state of this country.

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