[UPDATE: April 8, 2014]
Find out which government records are available to the public in each state in the revised, Open Government Guide, produced by The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press.
The access to public records for private investigators, lawyers or journalists is more often than not the same as that accorded to the unwashed masses. Some special privileges are reserved to the media in accessing voter registration records in California. We also have a toothless law that specifies that a “court-appointed licensed private investigator shall have the same rights and privileges to information as the public defender and the public defender investigator…” But which agency provides the electronic access to court and DMV records? Next time you’re working a criminal case and want mug shots, take a copy of PC 987.2(f) with you. If your county Sheriff’s office has given them to the public defender it’s required to turn them over to a private investigator.
Other resources and guides to researching public records and freedom of information laws and obtaining public records:
The Social Security Death Index, also called the Death Master File, is more restricted as of this month. Have you noticed when you run a standard background report that if the individual or a listed relative has died within the past 3 years it is no longer reported? That’s due to changes in the law which will now require data providers get certified to receive that data from the Social Security Administration and the end user to meet certain permissible purposes (significant restrictions) to obtain verification of a death, including name, Social Security Number and last residence. Here’s how Accurint/IRBSearch explains what lies ahead:
Pursuant to law passed in December 2013 (Section 203 of the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2013), access to information contained in the Social Security Administration’s Death Master File (DMF) is limited for a three year period beginning on the date of an individual’s death. As of March 26, 2014, access is limited to authorized users and recipients who qualify for certification.
A certification process was issued by the National Technical Information Service (NTIS) late Friday, March 21, 2014. NTIS’s certification program for access to the DMF requires that companies, which are receiving DMF information have a permissible purpose under the new law and have processes in place to protect the data provided to them.
The permissible purposes for receipt of the restricted DMF data are as follows:
Legitimate fraud prevention interest, and;
Legitimate business purpose pursuant to a law, governmental rule, regulation, or fiduciary duty
IRBsearch is working to minimize disruption of service to our customers. We will notify customers of requirements for access to the restricted components of the DMF shortly.
Please be aware that there will be an impact on the currency of the deceased data you receive until you qualify for access under the NTIS program. If you do not qualify, then the deceased-records data you receive will exclude any DMF data for individuals with a date of death after March 26, 2014. Those records will remain unavailable for a period of three years from the date of the individual’s death, after which time they will be made available to you.
Until and unless you qualify to receive DMF reported deaths you won’t see that for deaths within the past 3 years. There are other sources for confirmation of death that the databases will still use but these are spotty.
How has this altered what you do to verify whether someone has died and where?
Private investigators cull the web for free tricks that will aid our due diligence research and compiling background profiles of witnesses, insurance claimants, jurors, and an assortment of clients who need to know something about someone or a business. Linkedin, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram have become as fundamental to our investigations as court research, surveillance and interviewing. Some counties and states have opened access to public records by putting them online, making it easier to quickly collect more and more information. The social networking sites enable investigators to find self reported biographies, revealing photographs, personal interests, dates of activities, associates, where they work and take vacations — virtually anything that humans can reveal. At the same time people spill their lives onto the Facebooks of the Internet, they also employ “privacy” features that restrict portions of their disclosures to designated people. And private investigators are paid to legally snoop, so we want to break through those walls.
Another complication for the online information researcher is that the search engines and social network sites are dynamic, and that requires daily immersion to keep current with their functionality. Once, I put together presentation slides on searching Google and the very next day they changed the look of the site. Knowledge and skills can rust that fast. Like with field investigations, intelligence, experience and know-how get us to valuable and unanticipated places that can benefit our cases. So, what does all this have to do with, “View Full 3rd Degree Profiles on LinkedIn for Free?”
I may have stumbled upon a new feature (or glitch), or maybe I never noticed it before, but while preparing my recent PowerPoint presentation, “A Dozen (or so) Search Techniques and Sources You Definitely Don’t Know,” I unlocked a 3rd degree Linkedin profile — not just retrieving the full name but also the full profile. This was on the free access platform. Thinking I had made a mistake, I did the same with another name. That worked too. Let me know if it still does. Here are a series of slides that show the steps I took on Linkedin.
I have endeavored to compile links to all of the databases of government employees with names and salaries hosted by online newspapers, consumer watchdog organizations and government agencies. on the PI buzz page Government Employees.
In the past few years, general circulation newspapers have furthered the cause of government transparency by providing searchable databases of government employees and their salaries. Although these are federal, state, county and municipal government public records the corresponding government agencies may not have made these available at their websites. Government agency sites sometimes post a staff list or employee directory — not salaries — with name, telephone number and email. Often, school districts don’t list staff beyond those in the top level administration, but school sites that have their own Web pages may have a staff and faculty directory with names of administrators and teachers. An example of a very flexible school staff and teacher directory is hosted by the Ventura County Office of Education. Search by district, school or employee last name to find the district, school site, job title and phone number (Internet Explorer, only).
The disadvantage of the separate databases is you have to know which one to search in order to verify a place of employment. The Bay Area News Group continues to amass the payroll for California state, court and local workers in its aggregated Public Employees Salary database. The most recent data is from 2012 and includes about a dozen northern California counties and four southern California ones. It also has state, university and judicial employees. This is one of the few government employees and salary databases that incorporates multiple jurisdictions. Many state governments have developed online transparency sites of the annual budget and payroll, including names of workers. I’ve organized all the links by state. Only sites and documents that have employee names are linked to.