I've talked before about how concerned I am regarding internet security and identity fraud. I think any country that relies on social security numbers as the main source of identification in both social and financial arenas is doing things ass-backwards and just plain stupid. Yes, fellow Americans, I mean our government allowing our social security numbers to become part of a public record both inside county courthouses and on the internet. What? You think your social security number isn't available to anyone with internet access around the world? Are you sure?
Betty Ostergren, a 56 year old resident of Richmond Virginia, is committed to making important people angry. She puts their Social Security numbers on her Web site, or links to where they can be found. She does this because she is trying to embarass government into making privacy a priority. And she's making an impression. She isn't trying to make government officials like CIA Director Porter J. Goss, former secretary of state Colin L. Powell, or Florida Gov. Jeb Bush be victims of identity theft, as were millions of plain, hardworking Americans in the past year. She is on a crusade to scare and shame public officials into doing something about how easy it is to get sensitive personal data.
Ostergren discovered that a wealth of documents -- including marriage and divorce records, property deeds, and military discharge papers -- containing Social Security numbers, dates of birth and other sensitive information is accessible from any computer anywhere. Many of the online records are images of original documents, which also display people's signatures. She began organizing citizens and complaining to officials on the issue in 2002, when a title examiner called to warn her that her county was about to put a slew of documents online, including pages with her signature. She swung into action, bringing enough pressure on the Hanover County Virginia officials that they halted their plans. Then she broadened her attack, targeting other counties in Virginia and elsewhere.
Ostergren gets my vote for Woman of the Week. She's my new hero!