Official's privacy concern heeded

Staff WriterApril 6, 2009 

Craig Olive's problems with the state's identity theft law are one step closer to being solved.

Olive, Johnston County's register of deeds, wants the power to pull Social Security numbers and other sensitive information from the deeds his office has posted online -- something he and registers of deeds in other North Carolina counties can't do to existing records now unless an individual asks them to.

Olive has made the issue a personal crusade, writing legislators each year since the law passed in 2005 to warn them of the invitation to identity theft.

Now, Johnston County's new state senator, David Rouzer, has taken up Olive's cause.

Rouzer, a Republican, has filed a bill that would allow registers of deeds to voluntarily redact Social Security numbers, bank account numbers and other information without specific individual requests.

"Most individuals don't know that their sensitive information is online like that through the register of deeds office," Rouzer said. "You could easily see how this information would be a gold mine for any number of folks."

Under the current identity theft law, registers of deed may redact such information only in response to an individual request. The new law allows registers of deeds to remove such information from all records it posts online.

"Right now, the public would have to give me the book and page where their sensitive numbers are," Olive said, referring to the way the records are sorted.

The bill would not require registers of deeds to remove the information from their online records unless individuals request such action.

He said some registers of deeds might not have the resources to pull the sensitive information from their records -- though he hopes to see it become common practice as a way to ward off identity theft.

Olive said he has a system in place that could easily remove the information from all deeds. He has already posted information on his Web site making it easier for people to find sensitive information and ask that it be removed.

While new deeds are stripped of Social Security numbers before they're posted online, thousands of older records are now online with the numbers. In fact, Olive hopes to have all Johnston deeds dating to the 1700s posted online soon.

But he'd like for all of those easily accessible records to be free of sensitive information.

"I'm looking to protect people," Olive said.

marti.maguire@newsobserver.com or 919-829-4841

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