Publicly available v. readily accessible
Scott McLeod, J.D., Ph.D., is an Associate Professor of Educational Leadership at the University of Kentucky. He also is the Founding Director of the UCEA Center for the Advanced Study of Technology Leadership in Education (CASTLE), the nation’s only academic center dedicated to the technology needs of school administrators, and was a co-creator of the wildly popular video series, Did You Know? (Shift Happens). He has received numerous national awards for his technology leadership work, including recognitions from the cable industry, Phi Delta Kappa, and the National School Boards Association. In Spring 2011 he was a Visiting Canterbury Fellow at the University of Canterbury in New Zealand. Dr. McLeod blogs regularly about technology leadership issues at Dangerously Irrelevant and Mind Dump, and occasionally at The Huffington Post. He can be reached at scottmcleod.net.
The authors of Blown to Bits, an absolutely superb book on life 'after the digital explosion,' note that
There is a difference ... between 'public' and 'readily accessible.'
Public records such as real estate transfers, birth records, and business transactions often contain sensitive personal information, including Social Security numbers, birth dates, mother's health information, credit card numbers, voter registration, fingerprints, professional occupations, and the like. While these data technically always have been available to the public, the difficulty of sifting through the paper records made large-scale aggregation and use nearly impossible.
What happens when those public records get digitized, however? What happens when public databases become easily accessible? What happens when paper records are turned into searchable text via optical character recognition and/or tagging? Or, as the authors, note, what happens when all of this public information gets merged with commercial marketing databases?
As the IowaLandRecords.org controversy here in Iowa shows, we need to do some tough thinking on this topic. Just how 'public' do we want our public records to be?
A few useful resources