My Week As An Internet Gumshoe
by Noah Robischon
(TIME, June 2) -- Senator Dianne Feinstein has made it clear she thinks there's too much personal information drifting around in cyberspace. To test that proposition, I went to the Net to see what I could find about her. My first stop: the Dianne Feinstein home page, which pops up as soon as you type her name into any Web search engine (I used HotBot). There I discovered her date of birth and the names of her husband, daughter, stepdaughters and granddaughter. That's more than enough information to prime the pump at a commercial database service. I went to KnowX, one of the most comprehensive sources of public information on the Web.
A free sample from the KnowX database listed six lawsuits in which the Senator is named, a dozen lien records and four filings under the Uniform Commercial Code. (Unfortunately, there are no bankruptcies on file; these are usually good sources of home addresses and Social Security numbers.) To get more detail I had to pay: $3.48 for a single record or $15 for a multirecord discount.
The lawsuits turned up some interesting tidbits. In 1992 the Senator brought a civil suit against one Michael Magday. Later she and her second husband, investment banker Richard Blum, were plaintiffs in a case against Citibank and BYGG Enterprises. In 1990 Dan Stanford and the California Republican Party sued her in civil court. All these files, however, had been carefully scrubbed of phone numbers, addresses and SSNs.
No matter. Cambridge Statistical Research Associates offers an excellent nationwide online name search for just $12. In exchange for Feinstein's name and birth date, CSRA delivered the Senator's current and former home addresses and (bingo!) her unlisted home phone number.
I was still missing that key bit of information: her Social Security number. I visited Deep Data, whose Flake Index promises "a veritable gold mine of data." I paid my $20 and got the same lien information I'd already seen, but no SSN.
I turned to the National Credit Information Network, but I was too late. In response to public outcry, it has stopped providing SSNs. My last hope was Gary Ermoian, an online private eye who promises to find anyone's SSN for $25. I submitted a request and waited. Six days later he called to say he had canceled that service because too many clients were giving him bogus credit-card numbers.
Meanwhile, there's plenty of juicy stuff to be had without a Social Security number. Many states offer driving records in computer-searchable form. Few vendors can search in California, however, and those that do require a license-plate number and a fistful of dollars. I don't have either. I do have a list of every campaign donation Senator Feinstein has made in the past four years, thanks to Federal Election Commission records stored online. Criminal records are also available, but they cost too much, and I figure that with a straight arrow like Feinstein, they're a low-percentage shot. The Senator's husband is easier to crack. Blum's SSN turned up in the Securities and Exchange Commission's Edgar database, and when I plugged it into an SSN trace service ($5 a pop), I found five different addresses, including a vacation home at Lake Tahoe.
I finally got Senator Feinstein's Social Security number too, for free, from Glen Roberts' famous Stalker's Home Page. He'd obtained it through a private investigator and published it a few months ago. Armed with that golden nine-digit key, I paid Find a Friend $40 to rush me the top portion of her credit report from Equifax. I'd lend her money, if I had any left.
What you can learn about DIANNE FEINSTEIN
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