Blown To Bits

Public and Accessible are not the same

Wednesday, May 7th, 2008 by Ken Ledeen

Watching the results come in from the Indiana primary I was reminded of the difference between public information and accessible information. Quantitative changes can have qualitative impacts. Information that was always nominally public, but nearly impossible to retrieve, is now completely accessible.

In the case of Hillary and Barack, the obvious example is FEC records. The Federal Elections Commission provides detailed information on who gave money to whom. Go to and take a look at the interactive maps for the presidential election. They did a great job presenting information that was always public – but not readily accessible. Now, if you want to check on your neighbors, it’s a piece of cake.

Some people play both sides. Bill Gates gave the maximum ($2,300) to both Hillary and Barack. We always had the legal right to know. Now the information is just a mouse click away and that changes everything.

Campaign contributions arent’y the only example. My daughter bought a condo a while ago and was uncomfortable when all of her co-workers starting asking what she had paid. Why bother asking? Just go to Zillow, or any of its competitors and this traditionally public information is now readily accessible.

Lots of communities post property tax data. It used to take a trip to city hall. Now, no gas required, a couple of mouse clicks and you are there.

Curious about your neighbor’s house? In my case you can go to the town website and find everything from the property valuation to the kind of roofing material they used. This information was always public, but making it easy to retrieve has utterly changed our sense of privacy.

Careful. Snooping on your neighbors can be habit forming.

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