by Robert Franco
July-05-07 Reprinted with
It used to be that the mainstream media had a monopoly on
publishing and they took advantage of their First Amendment rights
to do so. The Internet has changed all that and now the shoe is on
the other foot. Last month, the
Register in Ohio published a list of nearly 2,700 individuals
who have concealed carry permits. The list was not public, but the
media had been permitted access to it.
In response, the Buckeye Firearms Association published an
article on their Web site criticizing the paper's decision to
make the list public.
publishing lists of persons who have obtained concealed
handgun licenses, newspapers such as the Sandusky Register
have taken private, non-public record information and made
it public. Specifically, because of their actions, the
general public may now know who owns and may or may not
carry a gun. Additionally, the general public now knows who
is not carrying a gun in their day to day activities.
Beyond the fact that the Register has now made public
that which statutorily was not to be public, what harm can
come from this? Buckeye Firearms Association previously
brought you the story of a prison guard who was tracked down
by a former inmate by using a concealed carry license list
published in the local paper. However, beyond this explicit
example, the general public remains largely unaware of just
how much harm can come from this...
But, the Buckeye Firearms Association didn't stop there.
They did their own digging through the Public Records to see what
they could find out about Matt H. Westerhold, the editor of
the Sandusky Register. They included a long list of
their findings in their article.
It is very easy to determine that Mr. Westerhold has gone
to pretty significant steps to insure that his own personal
information is not public. In fact, having his name and
county of residence (such as was published on the Sandusky
Register's list of CHL-holders) would have saved us
significant work. Running general searches will not yield a
home address or phone number for him.
We do learn that he owns 322 Deepwood Lane in Amherst,
Ohio. However, a quick search reveals that Mesh*** Elsw***
has the phone service there, and she claims to be a renter
of Mr. Westerhold and states that Matt does not live there.
Turning to the County Recorder, we see that Mr. Westerhold’s
mortgage with Union National is a residential mortgage, not
a commercial/rental property mortgage. If we were
vindictive, we could contact the bank and let them know that
Mr. Westerhold is now allegedly renting the property out to
a renter, since that is potentially a default under the
residential mortgage allowing the bank to foreclose the
We also easily learn that Mr. Westerhold was cited into
Oberlin Municipal Court for failure to wear a seatbelt and
given a warning for speeding. We see he drives a 2003 Blue
Chevy Tracker license plate DA*3816. A bad guy now has a car
to look for around the Register’s parking lot if he wants to
The real goldmine for the person who intends to cause
harm to Mr. Westerhold is his Dissolution. With little
effort we find his date of birth is 11/**/1958 and his
Social Security number is 2**-56-6***. We also see his prior
employment history and yearly salary. Having his full name,
date of birth, social security number, prior employer, prior
salary and current employer and a guess at his salary,
combined with knowing from the Dissolution that he has/had
an Auto Loan with XYZ bank and knowing his current mortgage
amount and details, it would be child’s play for a bad guy
to open up credit accounts and commit various other acts of
identity theft against him.
More seriously, for the hardcore bad guy, these Public
Records (per the Dissolution settlement) show that Matt has
a pre-teen child who resides with his ex-wife. Reviewing the
child support worksheet and the financial affidavits, we see
that no tuition or school payments are listed, so it is a
relatively high percentage bet that the child is a public
school student. We see from the worksheet that mom has
custody, so the child almost certainly is the residential
parent for school purposes. From further Public Records, we
see the marriage license from Mr. Westerhold’s ex-wife a
year after the dissolution, and we already knew her date of
birth, social security number and recent employer from the
Dissolution. With very little effort we find ex-wife’s
residence and now are relatively sure of which public school
his pre-teen child goes to simply by checking the auditor’s
maps for this residence for school districts. A check of the
school website will show us the bus schedule for that
particular school and that street or address, so we will
almost certainly, with little effort, know which bus the
child rides and what time it picks up/drops off. Further,
most public libraries keep copies of the local school
yearbooks in the reference section. Even if that is not the
case, it is going to be fairly easy to get the yearbook and
probably get a picture of the child for identification
Chilling, isn’t it?
I would say that it is indeed chilling. This small "information
war" between the Sandusky Register and the Buckeye Firearms
Association is just a small example of what happens when you combine
open access to Public Records with the Internet. Information that
could have, and probably should have, remained buried in the Public
Records is now out on the Internet for anyone with a grudge against
Mr. Westerhold to find with a simple Google search of his name. In
fact, googling his name in quotes returns the article, as reprinted
Professional Soldiers Website, as the first result. (And... now
its available here on my blog.)
This type of information has long been "public record," but the
instant availability has potentially made the information much more
harmful. What used to take a trip to the county courthouse and some
knowledge about where to look once you got there, now can often be
accomplished with Google. Any search engine can at least get someone
to the right website to begin their search.
It is one thing when the information is published for a good
reason, but it is quite another when it serves no newsworthy
purpose. Here, the Sandusky Register really didn't have a legitimate
purpose to publish the names, ages, and counties of the conceal
carry permit holders. And, most certainly, the Buckeye Firearms
Association had no good reason, other than spite, to publish their
findings on Mr. Westerhold. But, the First Amendment and our Public
Records laws allow them to do it anyway.
What the whole fiasco does do, though, is attract more attention
to the shortcomings of our privacy and Public Records laws. Perhaps
we should be grateful to them for that. But what will be next? The
newspaper could begin their own digging through the Public Records
for information on members of the Buckeye Firearms Association.
Where does it end?
As I have said many times before, our Public Records laws are too
outdated to deal with this type of abuse of the Public Records.
Journalistic integrity is surely not enough to protect us,
especially when so many publishers on the Internet are not really
journalists. And, more often, the information is gathered and sold
for a profit by corporations - not journalists.
Surely, this cannot be what was ever intended to become of our
Public Records. They are there to serve a legal purpose, to preserve
and protect our rights as citizens and to provide a system for
checks and balances on our government. The Public Records were never
meant to serve as canon fodder in private information wars between
parties who now have the power to publish the information on the
Internet for no other reason than to cause grief to individuals.
About the author:
Robert A. Franco has been in the title industry for
nearly 15 years in the state of
The owner of VersaTitle, a full service abstracting and title company,
and the founder and president of
Source of Title, a Web site devoted to
providing media and marketing services to the title industry, Franco has
dedicated much of his professional career to furthering the role and
significance of title examiners in the title insurance industry...
about Robert Franco
Robert can be reached at