Real estate transactions are public record, accessible to anyone wanting information on a parcel. Available information includes value, sales history, square footage, improvements and ownership. The county recorder and the county tax assessor’s offices maintain real estate databases. The county recorder’s database includes all recorded transactions, such as mortgages and other liens, while the tax assessor maintains a record of appraised and assessed property values and taxes paid and due. The tax assessor’s records are generally available online free of charge.
You may wonder why so much personally identifiable information about you is accessible online. By law, certain types of government records must be made public, with access enshrined in the Freedom of Information Act. Tax liens, registered voter files, business licenses, and property tax assessor files are some of the most common public records, and they serve as a source of information for consumer confidence issues such as the true value of a property or the legitimacy of a business or professional.
Originally, these documents presented very few privacy threats, because they were only accessible by visiting government offices. Since the mid-1990s, however, states have worked hard to increase the availability of electronic versions of public records. Some states even sell your public records to online people-finder or information brokerage services, who then combine them and add other types of information to make much more detailed portraits of your private life.
Today, many government documents containing highly sensitive personal data are readily available on the Internet, presented together with detailed marketing profiles, personal browsing histories, and social media data. Personally identifiable information is so pervasive online that even the Pentagon has had trouble keeping it hidden.