What the Web knows about you

How much private information is available about you in cyberspace? Social Security numbers are just the beginning.

My next stop was the federal Public Access to Court Electronic Records (PACER) database, which contains US District, Appellate and Bankruptcy court records. Here the government wants to know who is searching. The registration process for users involves entering your Social Security number, date of birth and other data.

I found myself trolling through dozens of records of people who were not me, at a cost of $.08 per page of results. I pulled up a total of 119 records, including 51 Robert L. Mitchell bankruptcies.

Another Robert L. Mitchell had been arrested for kidnapping. But nothing matched the Robert L. Mitchell I was researching.

The PACER system required that I conduct a separate search for each jurisdiction. CriminalSearches.com is a commercial site that aggregates the same information so that you can do a single search across all jurisdictions -- and it's free. I executed a free search on the Web site. Apparently, I have a clean record in all 50 states.

I also searched state and county databases for the state in which I reside. Database aggregators such as LexisNexis pull information from all of the various local, state and federal databases and roll them up for easier searching, but you need to buy a subscription to use such services.

Computerworld has a LexisNexis subscription, but that costs money. While I did fork over $.08 a page for PACER results, that amounted to less than a dollar. At this point in my investigation, I wanted to see how much I could find for nothing -- or next to nothing -- before resorting to fee-based services.

Source: Free people searches

Information discovered: Employer name, job title, age, month and date of birth, phone numbers, wife's name and age, historical addresses and phone numbers, personal e-mail address, identifying photographs, employment history

I continued my investigation with the people and business search Web sites, including ZabaSearch , WhitePages.com , PeopleFinders.com , US Search , Intelius , Switchboard and PublicInfoGuide.com . The initial searches were free, although each service charged a premium for some of the data it uncovered. As I found out, you get what you pay for.

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