Internet scrubbing and privacy protection
By Jarod Wilson
Over the past few years, a disturbing trend in online harassment of officers — the publishing of private identifying information (doxing) and the targeting of officers with protests at their private residences — has greatly increased throughout the nation. Police union leaders throughout the nation have also been targeted for harassment using their personal information.
I had the pleasure of speaking at the NJPBA Convention in San Diego this past month and, after speaking with many of the members, I know New Jersey’s law enforcement officers have not been immune from this type of harassment. A simple internet search can reveal one’s address, age, family members and other personal information, putting us at risk. Here in San Diego during the riots, we saw people use their phones to look up the personal information of officers holding the line and use it to threaten them, harass them and shout out their addresses. We have had targeted protests at officers’ homes as well.
Thankfully, New Jersey, like California, has laws which make it difficult for people to knowingly post an officer’s information online. However, most online information is posted by data-mining companies, which post personal information obtained from public and financial records. It is important for officers to request that their information, such as home address and telephone number, be taken off these websites.
Each member can conduct searches on their own information and contact the companies directly, or they can outsource that work to a “scrubbing” company that will search the internet for them and contact the website listing the private information. If you do this on your own, it often becomes overwhelming, as the data is constantly reloaded onto the internet. It takes time to remove this information once requested. If an officer is involved in an incident and has become a target of the mob online, it could take weeks to have the information removed. This makes it very important to be proactive about privacy protection before it becomes an issue.
Our association in San Diego saw a need for a way to avoid this online targeting. We’ve developed a program to assist and encourage members in obtaining privacy protection and making their online personal identifying information difficult for detractors to locate. The SDPOA now reimburses members who use a privacy protection service.
There are numerous online services available to officers to use for privacy protection. Some cost hundreds of dollars, and we do not recommend these, because the reality is there is no perfect service. The goal of using these services is to make it harder for your information to be located. Because of the depth of the internet, you can never assume that no one is ever going to find your information. However, these services do a relatively good job of making it more difficult for someone with little resources to find an officer’s personal information.
LEO WebProtect, Magen, and privacyforcops.org all provide a similar service of contacting websites that list private information and requesting removal from the internet. A brief comparison of the programs is below:
LEO WebProtect locates personal identifying information on hundreds of websites and uses electronic communications to request that the information be removed. Their CEO presented the work he has done by making connections with a lot of various websites that post information and can have it removed quicker than sending requests via mail or own your own. LEO WebProtect costs $75 per year for members with a union discount, otherwise it’s $100 per year.
Magen is a company founded by a former technology executive that uses computer search algorithms to find your information buried even deep in the web and have it removed via electronic communication. Magen does three things: removal of your personal information from publicly available online databases, dilution of your name on the internet, and threat monitoring. The current cost is $45 a year.
Privacy for Cops
Privacyforcops.org also locates personal identifying information on hundreds of websites, except it uses standard mail requests to ask companies to remove the information. The company sends 40 different letters out and has an additional “Privacy Forever” monitoring service. For the initial service and to have the company send the letters out for you, along with one year of Privacy Forever, the cost is $105.
There are other ways to make your information more private online, such as blurring out your home on Google and Bing Map Street View. Home records are also commonly accessed by data mining companies, and many officers here have put their homes into trusts to have their names removed from the public record. A P.O. box can also throw off data-mining companies that utilize mailing lists to obtain information. Keeping your home address private has become an unfortunately difficult but increasingly important officer safety matter in the 2020s.
Jared Wilson is a sergeant with the San Diego Police Department and has been with SDPD for more than 17 years. He is the SDPOA Secretary and has been an association director for four years. Email Jared at email@example.com with any questions.