Be Careful What You Wish For: 'Privacy Protection' Now Used As An Excuse To Cut Off Investigative Journalists From Key Database

from the tradeoffs dept

We've been explaining for a long time that many people don't really understand "privacy." Privacy is a tradeoff not a "thing." Assuming that privacy is a thing -- and that "it" must be protected -- leads to some bad results. Lexis Nexis has a tool called Trace IQ, that is widely used by investigative journalists to find out information about people -- including their addresses and phone numbers. Some people might argue that just addresses and phone numbers should be kept private, but it really wasn't that long ago that such information wasn't just widely available to the public, but every six months or so a giant yellow-covered book was thrown in front of our doors with listings of everyone's phone number and address in your geographic region. Remember that?

However, Lexis Nexis is now cutting investigative journalists off from this service because "privacy."

A Cardiff-based company is banning journalists from accessing a powerful database of names, phones numbers and addresses, in a move the Centre for Investigative Journalism says is symptomatic of the way "popular anxieties about privacy" are gagging investigative reporting.

Lexis Nexis isn't explaining exactly why it's doing this, but various journalism organizations think that it has to do with the new focus on privacy and new laws like the GDPR:

The Director of the Centre for Investigative Journalism, James Harkin, said the industry has come under threat from legislation in recent times, pointing to the Investigatory Powers Act passed in 2016 and the proposed Espionage Act.

But Harkin said Lexis Nexis' decision to shut out journalists from Trace IQ shows investigative journalism can also be gagged by the new "popular anxieties about privacy".

"In many ways concerns about the Data Protection Act, and concerns about data protection more generally, are more subtle and more insidious, and more directly relevant to the day-to-day work of journalists," Harkin told BuzzFeed News.

Now, I know that some will think that it's no fair that journalists had access to this information in the first place, but those are likely the same people who were just recently complaining in our comments about how awful it is that some in the media publish stories without first talking to everyone involved. One way that you talk to everyone involved is getting the information necessary to talk to them. And things like TraceIQ make that possible. Or did.

Meanwhile, it appears that TraceIQ will still exist for other types of users: debt collectors. Apparently, it's fine for them to get access to this information, but it's not okay for reporters doing their jobs. Yes, privacy is important, but we have to learn that "protecting privacy" means recognizing the appropriate situations and cases where information can be accessed and shared, and recognizing what the tradeoffs in those decisions are. It does not mean that we should cut people off entirely from accessing data. Unless they're debt collectors.

Filed Under: database, information, journalism, privacy, trace iq
Companies: lexis nexis


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  • identicon
    Qwertygiy, 11 Mar 2019 @ 4:43pm

    Not *exactly* the same as a phone book...

    Without digging into the exact ethics over whether or not journalists should have access to this data, I think there's a few significant differences to point out between a phone book and this program.

    • 1: Opting out. You can choose to have your phone number not included in the phone book. It does not appear there is such an option here. LexisNexis has your information recorded whether you want it or not.

    • 2: History. Now, they may have changed in the past decade, but when I remember looking through phone books, I remember looking up a name and getting a number and address. Not numbers and addresses, a number and address -- the current ones. Trace IQ finds every telephone number and address that have ever been associated with you.

    • 3: Reverse lookup. While this is a much more trivial quibble than the previous ones, to reiterate, I remember looking up a name and getting a number, not being able to look up a number and get a name. There's plenty of freely available ways to do this on the internet, but I still have to pay an extra fee if I want to have Caller ID on my phone.

    • 4: There's a lot more than name, address, number being accessed. Email addresses, and any online accounts that can be associated with these addresses. Forwarding addresses. Debt settlements and bankruptcies. Court orders and settlements. Neighbors and roommates and family. That's a lot more than just what's listed by your name in the phone book.

    Now, one final point to make in the other direction: as far as I am able to tell, Trace IQ isn't collecting anything that someone would be unable to look up themselves. Rather, they're acting as the Google News of personal information: gathering information from dozens or hundreds of publicly-available databases and sources, and providing an easy way to collect them together and connect the dots. However, this may not be entirely accurate, and if it isn't, I'd love to learn exactly what they're offering with confidential access.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Bamboo Harvester (profile), 11 Mar 2019 @ 5:01pm

      Re: Not *exactly* the same as a phone book...

      Reverse Directories have always been available, but they weren't free like the regular and yellow pages phone books were.

      Almost nobody but cops bothered to buy them.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      btr1701 (profile), 13 Mar 2019 @ 1:29pm

      Re: Not *exactly* the same as a phone book...

      ◦3: Reverse lookup. While this is a much more trivial quibble than the previous ones, to reiterate, I remember looking up a name and getting a number, not being able to look up a number and get a name.

      I'm sitting here in my office looking at big phone book-like volume up on the shelf, published in 1987, that has a sequential listing of phone numbers and the names and addresses that belong to them. It's dusty and spectacularly out of date, but these things were available to anyone who wanted them during the same era as the phone books Masnick mentioned.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 11 Mar 2019 @ 4:44pm

    Makes me wonder who has access to my information and how much did they pay for same ... also, were is my cut?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 11 Mar 2019 @ 5:38pm

    Mike,

    Please provide your phone number and home address. I need it for journalistic purposes.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile), 11 Mar 2019 @ 6:04pm

      Re:

      1.888.930.9272.

      Floor64, Inc.
      370 Convention Way
      Redwood City, CA 94063

      What, you think Mike has time to go home with all he's involved in? You know, he has been accused of writing all these comments as well as all the other things.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 11 Mar 2019 @ 11:41pm

      Re: Ask stupid questions win stupid prizes

      Bro, sorry AAC defended you with that clapback. To be fair you were asking for it.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 11 Mar 2019 @ 5:40pm

    vague problem ?

    Where does Lexis-Nexis get this database info in the first place?

    Such databases seem widely available, for a fee.
    Mining population basic personal data is routine commercially and by governments.
    Journalists don't need Lexis-Nexis for this info.

    Lexis-Nexis is a private business and can make whatever rules they want, though this one does seem silly.
    How does Lexis determine who is a Journalist ?

    "Journalists" are not a special breed humanity -- they should not have specil rights/privileges beyond those of any other citizen.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 12 Mar 2019 @ 8:04am

      Re: vague problem ?

      Why have these businesses not licensed my data? Bloody pirates are stealing my intellectual property.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Zof (profile), 11 Mar 2019 @ 5:51pm

    Our journalists stopped caring about the truth long before they all started copying Fox News. We had bias in the tech media when we allowed a loser apple zealot to pretend the Apple Newton wasn't a hunk of garbage poorly done copy of superior GRiD devices already in use by NASA. Apple's first poorly done copy sold by the tech media even thought they knew it was crap.

    All we've seen is the tech media lack of ethics and water carrying for Apple turned into the Democrats trying to make our Media a branch of government since nobody likes them or trusts them anymore. They thought they'd just try mind control with our Media instead of admitting they suck and they messed up. Because they are petty garbage. The trash our society. The worst of us.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile), 11 Mar 2019 @ 6:09pm

      Re:

      OK, you hate Apple, we get that. You don't seem to like the media either, and BTW, not all of them are bad. But what does any of what you said have to do with the article extant?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Qwertygiy, 11 Mar 2019 @ 6:14pm

      Re:

      On the one hand, we have a claim that the first PDA software, which was generally around $900, copied an early laptop model, which was over $8,000, and that it was lauded by the tech media when in fact, the reception was much more Egg Freckles.

      On the other hand, we have the claim that the media is in the complete control of one political party... despite the fact that Fox News remains immensely popular while keeping their fingers in the pockets of at least one specific Republican, and that neutral media outlets do still exist.

      And I am expected to believe that these events are not only related, but that one is directly responsible for the other.

      Sorry, bud; just like a $8,000 laptop or $800 PDA software, I'm not buying it.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Tim Apple, 12 Mar 2019 @ 8:07am

      Re:

      I see that you have some issues with Apple products, our customers are important to us. Please contact a service representative for additional details.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 11 Mar 2019 @ 6:18pm

    Just for reference what is the difference to Lexis-Nexis between Bob Smith Journalist, Bob Smith licenced Private Detective, and Bob Smith shady skip-tracer. And if all three of those are the same person how do they decide when to provide data and when to conceal it.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Bamboo Harvester (profile), 12 Mar 2019 @ 6:43am

      Re:

      I'm not sure why Lexis-Nexis is being singled out here, unless it's because they're the "official" source for legal research.

      The information they archive and sell is all Public Record.

      There are dozens of services that do the same (and charge a lot less). I use two of them to background prospective tenants. The usual report is "past decade", financials and criminal. For a (lot!) more money I can buy a report with every record found, regardless of how old the entries are.

      Not only that, but the reports have relatives and "known associates", flagged for court records, arrests, etc.

      Scary.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 11 Mar 2019 @ 7:25pm

    "TraceIQ will still exist for other types of users: debt collectors."

    There will now be a lot of Journalists moonlighting as debt collectors.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 12 Mar 2019 @ 4:45am

    but every six months or so a giant yellow-covered book was thrown in front of our doors with listings of everyone's phone number and address in your geographic region. Remember that?

    Yes, I do, and it's why I need to make a correction here.

    The Yellow Pages was a business phone directory, supported by advertising. It did not contain residential names or numbers.

    That phone directory, called the "white pages", was a once-required by law book delivered at the same time the Yellow Pages were.

    Today, we only receive the condensed version of the Yellow Pages. I've not seen a white pages phone book in over a decade.

    Now, if you'll excuse me, I need to yell at a cloud and chase people off my lawn.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Bamboo Harvester (profile), 12 Mar 2019 @ 6:38am

      Re:

      White Pages are still printed, maybe just for rural areas.

      Mine is about the size of a Trade paperback, and less than half an inch thick. Just my town and the bordering towns are in it.

      Another one like the Reverse Directory that's always been available is the White Pages by Street Address. Also rarely bought, mainly only people campaigning for a local office bought them for mass mailings.

      Want to feel REALLY old? 411 used to be... FREE!

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 12 Mar 2019 @ 9:07am

      Re:

      Today, we only receive the condensed version of the Yellow Pages. I've not seen a white pages phone book in over a decade.

      Not sure where you live but we still get a delivery of a combined yellow/white pages book. It immediately goes into the trash but we still get it in the first place.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Dan Neely, 12 Mar 2019 @ 7:33am

    it really wasn't that long ago that such information wasn't just widely available to the public, but every six months or so a giant yellow-covered book was thrown in front of our doors with listings of everyone's phone number and address in your geographic region. Remember that?

    By "that long ago" do you mean last week? They've gotten steadily skinnier with tinier type over the last decade, but I still have 2 or 3 pushers of them dropping them off at my doorstop.

    I think the last time i used one was pre-smartphone when I needed the number for a pizza delivery shop during a power outage.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Cyclogenesis, 12 Mar 2019 @ 8:54am

    WRONG: Privacy is a tradeoff not a "thing."

    First, trivially factually WRONG. The "right to privacy" has been found by the Supreme Court, a little case called "Roe v Wade".

    Problem is that corporations can "trade off" and tradeoff MY privacy for their profit without MY being able to stop it.

    Surveillance capitalism is the "business model" that Masnick whole-heartedly supports, and the biggest violator of privacy, GOOGLE supports Masnick.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 12 Mar 2019 @ 9:23am

      Wrong troll is wrong.

      a little case called "Roe v Wade".

      Yes, wherein the Supreme Court ruled that "right to privacy" INCLUDED the decision of a woman to have an abortion or not. It did NOT define what else constituted a "right to privacy", nor did it DEFINE what exactly is meant generally by a "right to privacy". Stop being disingenuous.

      Problem is that corporations can "trade off" and tradeoff MY privacy for their profit without MY being able to stop it.

      Finally you say something actually true. And also prove Mike right by showing that it is a tradeoff.

      Surveillance capitalism is the "business model" that Masnick whole-heartedly supports, and the biggest violator of privacy, GOOGLE supports Masnick.

      And then go right back to lunacy lying land. Google only, sort of, is a sponsor of the Copia Institute, it in no way is a supporter of the TD PERSONAL OPINION blog. As evidenced by the numerous articles written AGAINST Google.

      Besides that, just being sponsored or supported by someone doesn't make them a sock puppet. I am supported by the government when they give me a grant or a loan to fund my college education. That doesn't mean I am then bound to parrot all their talking points, or even agree with them on anything. In fact, there is very little I agree with in our current government administration.

      Want to try again Cyclops?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      TFG, 12 Mar 2019 @ 9:43am

      Re: WRONG: Privacy is a tradeoff not a "thing."

      Who pays you to do this?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 12 Mar 2019 @ 11:13am

        Re: Re: WRONG: Privacy is a tradeoff not a "thing."

        That’s the best part. He’s been doing this for a decade for free. Mikes providing a public service by keeping at least three crazy homeless people off the streets.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    bob, 12 Mar 2019 @ 10:10am

    However, Lexis Nexis is now cutting investigative journalists off from this service because "profit."

    FTFY

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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