What Do Data Brokers Know About Me?

 I tried to find out. Some of their information is frighteningly accurate—and some of it laughably wrong.

One data broker thinks this is my lifestyle. Not quite.
One data broker thinks this is my lifestyle. Not quite.
Photo by Tyler Olson/Shutterstock

This essay is excerpted from Dragnet Nation: A Quest for Privacy, Security, and Freedom in a World of Relentless Surveillance, by Julia Angwin, published by Times Books.

I once ran into a friend and her husband at the playground in our neighborhood in Manhattan. As we watched our daughters—who are the same age—play on the jungle gym, the husband asked me about the articles I had been writing regarding privacy.

“I used to care more about privacy,” he said. I braced myself for the usual “I have nothing to hide” argument. But he surprised me with an entirely different approach. He said he realized that he “liked the idea of leaving artifacts” about his life more than he worried about his privacy. In short, he said, all this data was providing “immortality.”

I got a glimpse at this immortality when, as part of an “audit” I conducted to determine what information about me is out there, I peeked at the facts that data brokers have about me. This happened when I was sitting on Mike Griffin’s deck overlooking the Chesapeake Bay in the Baltimore suburbs.

Mike is a “repo” man who stumbled into the automobile surveillance business. He is tall and thin and filled with nervous energy. He seems to subsist entirely on coffee and cigarettes.

I was doing research for an article about the rise of automated license plate readers and decided to pay Mike a visit. He runs one of the largest private license plate snapping operations in the United States. His fleet of 10 camera-equipped cars log 300 to 400 miles a day, scanning plates in the Baltimore and Washington, D.C., metropolitan areas. Each month, his two shifts of drivers collect data about the location of 1 million plates.

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About securityteknews
Ralph Thomas is author of over 32 books on various aspects of conducting investigations, founder and director of The National Association Of Investigative Specialists,CEO of Thomas Investigative Publications, Inc, The Spy Exchange And Security Center and SpyTek Wholesale Imports. Thomas is a member of the Executive Security Council of Griffith Colson Intelligence Service, a private intelligence agency. Thomas's latest project is NAIStv on the Griffith Media TV Network. He has also developed A Native American Store in Georgetown Texas called Tribal Impressions. You can review his person home page off of: http://www.pimall.com/thomas

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