Beaver County Times
February 19, 2011
People often talk about Big Brother keeping tabs on everyone. But with technology constantly advancing and use of the Internet becoming more and more widespread, we can all essentially be Big Brother.
You can find out whether your mom has ever gotten a speeding ticket, your neighbor has filed for bankruptcy, or your company janitor has a criminal history. A potential employer may check out your social networking activity. Personal information about most of us is readily available with just a few clicks of the mouse.
While much of the information that’s out there is public – such as property values, criminal histories and bankruptcy filings – it’s also important for computer users, and especially teenagers, to be aware of what they’re putting on the Internet that can be accessed by virtually anyone.
Sara Rose, a lawyer with the American Civil Liberties Union in Pittsburgh, said it’s important for people to be very careful not to put anything out on the Internet that they wouldn’t want certain people to see. Once information is out there, a third party could get it, and you have no control of that, Rose said.
Rose said she stresses this point with younger computer users.
“Thirteen- and 14-year-olds aren’t necessarily thinking about 10 years down the line when a potential employer may see something,” she said.
Here’s a snapshot of various websites and the information they contain:
• The Unified Judicial System: This website allows access to court filings in criminal cases at the local level. The address: www.ujs portal.pacourts.us.
• PACER: This website, which stands for Public Access to Court Electronic Records, allows access to case and docket information for state and federal court filings, including bankruptcy filings. The address: www.pacer.gov.
• Megan’s Law: This website, run by the Pennsylvania State Police, posts the names, pictures and addresses of registered sex offenders in Pennsylvania. The site has a feature that allows you to do a radius search of sex offenders in your area. The address: www.pameganslaw.state.pa.us.
• The National Sex Offender public website: This site, run by the U.S. Department of Justice, allows you to search for a list of registered sex offenders anywhere in the country. It tells where offenders live and, in some cases, where they work. The address: www.nsopw.gov.
• Spokeo: This is a privately run website that gathers information, such as addresses and estimated household income, from various sources and puts it in one place. For a fee, users can get more details. The address: www.spokeo.com.
• Zillow: This website allows you to see estimated property values for homes as well as homes that are for sale. The address: www.zillow.com.
• Beaver County Tax Assessment office: The county-run website allows you to look up the ownership history and property values of homes in Beaver County by name, address or parcel number. The link to property assessments is found through Beaver County’s main website: www. beavercountypa.gov.