The Travesty of Public Records

A few weeks ago, I received an e-mail from a woman that I’ve called “Maria” on this blog. Something in that e-mail really worried me: Maria told me that she had found my home address online.

When I wrote back to her, I asked if she was just kidding. I was hoping she was, but she wasn’t. In fact, she said it wasn’t even hard to find my home address. (Why she was looking for my home address, I don’t know.)

So I went to the website Maria mentioned (I’m not revealing it here and I hope no one does in the comments, because it’s a travesty this website exists), typed in my name, and sure enough, there was my home address with unit number.

I’ll be honest. This scared me. I use my real name for everything because for the most part, I want people to find me. I want someone who sees me on Twitter to be able to find my blog. Same with Facebook. Same with

But I don’t want people finding out where I live. I’m astounded that this information is public.

So the first thing I did was write to this website. Very polite e-mail requesting that they remove me from the site. Their response? No. They said if I wanted my name off the site, I had to send them a copy of police report indicating that I have a stalker. I don’t have a stalker (that I know of), but I’d rather remove my address before they get it, not wait until they have it. That rule just doesn’t make sense.

They said the only other way I could have my name removed would be if I removed it from the public record by contacting the City Counselor in St. Louis. Again, this seemed preposterous to me–this website had my information without my permission and I was formally requesting them to remove it, and yet they refused.

But that’s okay, because the government is here to protect us, right? So I wrote to the City Counselor and asked for my name to be removed from the public record. This is what I received in return:

Hopefully you can read that. If not, it’s basically some dude named Carl Yates telling me that my request is silly because, in his words, if they let people remove themselves from the public record, “we would have people trying to always sell each other the Brooklyn Bridge or swamp land in Florida.”

Really? Always? Where are these people getting their titles to the Brooklyn Bridge?

One, maybe there are good reasons involving selling property for making people’s addresses public. BUT “public” doesn’t have to mean “web accessible.” Some things should be hard to discover. There’s a huge difference in effort between Googling someone’s address and actually driving down to the City Counselor and requesting a someone’s address in person. Extra steps can save lives, as is evident by waiting periods on gun purchases. Give people a chance to simmer down.

Two, say I tried to sell Trevor the Brooklyn Bridge. I told him I own it. I even show him a title of ownership that I’ve doctored, and he believes me, so he goes to someone (I’m not sure who does this job) to transfer the title. That person–that professional–should be able to check private government records on property ownership and realize that I don’t actually own the Brooklyn Bridge. Isn’t that all we need? Why do we need to be able to search online for this information? If Trevor’s dumb enough to pay me in cash for the Brooklyn Bridge, is it at all likely that he’ll Google me and my property to see if I own the bridge? I don’t see that happening.

I don’t use this blog as a forum to complain about our government. For the most part, I think our government does a good job. But this…this is a travesty.

If you agree, send a letter to Carl Yates. His home address is on the public record, and I’ve written it under his name on the letter for your convenience. You probably should have Googled me, Carl.

19 thoughts on “The Travesty of Public Records”

  1. As with many things on the Internet, address search sites can be ruined through more information rather than less. Having moved several times over the past decade, an address search for me, despite my unique name, turns up three or more addresses. There are probably ways to fool these sites into thinking there are multiple people with your name with very different addresses.

    • Andrej–I see your point. I wish I wouldn’t have to “fool” these sites, though. I’m not sure that I could since I own my condo, but maybe I’ll try in the future.

  2. I agree with you that this information should be a little more challenging to come by through the Internet.

    I was very excited to get to the end of this entry to see that Carl Yates address was written in! I was hoping that was what you’d written!

    Also, while Andrej may be right, I’d posture that his response is a little beside the point of this entry. You shouldn’t have to fool the government so that you can feel safe that random people can’t just find you through 3 clicks on the Internet.

    • Trev–Exactly, I don’t feel particularly safe knowing that it’s so easy for someone to find my address and show up at my door. It simply doesn’t have to be that easy. I’m telling you, it took me about three seconds to look up Yates’ address. Oops.

  3. There isn’t really a generation gap here, but where have you been Jamey? Of course this info is easy to get (don’t worry, I don’t make a habit of searching that deep for personal information on anyone). There are sites where people can pay for your address, marriage information, phone information, car information…it’s pretty pathetic. None of them are official or even associated with the government.

    I see where Yates is coming from on the property side, but I think there needs to be a limit on the accessibility of the information as you have said. But alas, then you have the hackers, or the WikiLeaks guy putting everything out there because they can. I have one of the most unique last names, and I cringe to think of the information I have been able to find on myself, and not even on purpose…for free! It’s the digital age, and thankfully (though, maybe naively) the majority of people aren’t going to go to that stalker mentality every day. One has to be pretty bored or obsessed, and those are special mental cases right there. Just keep voicing your opinion and writing the blog. Unfortunately, you can’t win this argument. Obviously you don’t want to give out your most significant identifying information like social security number, but your name and address pretty much aren’t yours to own, and never have been. Darn you public record!

  4. While I don’t think your request is all that irrational, I think you seek the best of both worlds here my friend. You have assigned meaning the name “Jamey Stegmaier” through your actions at work, your very public blog, your forays into writing etc. You are branding the name with meaning and personal style. Now, the fact that those words actually refer to you as a person in the realm of the legal at the same time as the brand is the problem. So, either take a nom deplume for your brand, or change your legal name. While your legal name will still be on documents, the more you get your Brand out there, the better the chances that the wrong people will have it.

    Maybe you should become Jamey “Bobcat” Stegmaier; or just Jamey Bobcat.3

    PS. If you had told us that Maria went snooping for your personal information when you had told her you weren’t interested in dating, I may have shifted my vote to no on the date.

    PPS. “You probably should have Googled me Carl” = “I’m kind of a big deal.” This seems against the brand you have been developing

    • Okay, so maybe I was a little cocky with the last line. BUT even if I only had 10 readers, it still sucks to be called out online.

      As for Maria, the info about her knowing my address was in her very first e-mail to me, before I said no the first time.

      You have a fair point. A long time ago I could have elected to hide my identity online and use a different name for the blog. In fact, my first blog had a different name. So perhaps it’s my own fault that strangers might look up my address. I just wish it were a little harder to do so.

  5. Please, please, please do not write this poor Carl guy. He’s someone doing his job. He’s following the law. If you don’t like the law, write your state representative. Don’t do to Carl what you are upset about others doing to you.

    Also, for the record, I think it is better that all information be available to everyone, rather than only available to the creepy people who hack the web. My mother often reminds me that it is a good idea to google yourself on a regular basis so you can be aware of what information about you is out there.

    • What? I did exactly what I should have done–I politely wrote the office that has the power to remove my name from the public record. This guy chose not to do so.

      • This guy chose not to do so because “there is no law that either allows the City to comply with your request or accomodate you in the same.”

        So you are demanding that Carl break the law and remove your address? That seems unfair and inapropriate to me, so I agree: don’t write Carl at home. (Of course, you may always send further correspondence to the City Counselor or write your state rep about changing the law if you so choose.)

        Frankly, it seems to me a good thing that the owners of property have a record of their ownership publicly available, as it promotes transparancy and accountability in that public right.

          • I still have two issues with this entire process.

            (1) The ease with which public information can be accessed. I do still think there should be some system of making a basic attempt to ensure that angry or crazy people cannot obtain your information instantly.

            (2) Shouldn’t the government have some type of letter (or at least standard form paragraph for inserting into a letter) that’s a little more professional than this? Jamey can’t be the only person making this request.

            Since I am a petty, inappropriate, and wildly retrobution-oriented person, I’m going to continue to view writing Carl at home as the best possible avenue for waging this battle vs. “the man”.

  6. Here is the information that I sent Jamey in my first email. I just took the paragraph about the address and phone number. I just googled his name and St. Louis and it came up. I didn’t go looking for his home address I was looking for an email address and the blog. I’m only posting this because a friend told me that this post was up and that I look like a stalker. I promimse you I am not.

    Dec 5th
    Ok, so no I’m not a crazy stalker I promise you. I’m almost normal. I winked at you but you did not wink back. 🙁 So I googled you. Now that I know your address, your phone number, your social security number, and how much money you have in your bank account you should be worried.. Just Kidding I only have your address and phone number. After googling you I found your blog. I was intrigued and while I was at the a bar listening to a live band with friends I was reading your blog. Very intrigued by you and the way you think about things. So I took your perfect woman quiz and scored a 22. I’m the kinda of person that believes that you can only accomplish/fail at the things you try for. Basically if you don’t ask you don’t know the answer, you don’t put your self out there you will never know what will happen even if you risk looking like a stalker, and I don’t believe in regrets. So here I am putting myself out there and acting like a crazy stalker because you intrigue me. I’m find your intelligence extremely attractive and the fact that your not scared to put yourself out there.

  7. Jamey,

    Hey buddy, that sucks that some strange woman can find all your personal info just by googling you, but such is the age we live in. Until legislature keeps up with technology one will always have to tread carefully in the cyber realm. After that last post- even more so!

    Have a great holiday!!

    • Mr. Yates needs to get a life outside government. Lots of other governments have found ways to make public information a bit more challenging to find. For example, some allow public land records to be searched by address only, other than by name. (Try finding the address of your CIA buddy who lives in McLean, VA.) That way, for example, it is easy to see real estate transactions of properties geographically close to each other if you want to do a market analysis. But you can’t easily find the address of the cop who just cited you for DUI. In fact, isn’t it ironic that some localities exclude information about their public safety personnel while making information on Joe citizen easily accessible? Our police officers take risks and need protection, but don’t we all? Private companies buy or otherwise access this info and reformat it to make it easier to search, but governments could, if they chose, limit by contract the private companies’ ability to do so.
      Yes, this is the age of the internet and privacy isn’t what it once was. Nor is respect for other human rights or appreciation of civil behavior. And when public servants like Mr. Yates brush off such a concern with such recklessness, they invite the end of the very open government they are sworn to protect and preserve. He would do better to apply some effort to finding a solution.


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