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Two Iowa Counties Take a Stand for Privacy Rights
by Robert Franco | 2010/05/24 |

Laws passed in Iowa in 2005 and 2009 require county recorders to participate in an online records system, but two counties are refusing to cooperate.  Two years ago, privacy advocates discovered the system contained hundreds of social security numbers - including Governor Chet Culver's.  Officials in Hamilton and Hardin counties are refusing to provide new records, citing privacy concerns.  The debate is heating up as the Attorney General's office reviews the situation.

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The Iowa County Recorder's Association is pushing the counties to comply with the participation requirements for the system, 

"We believe that the Hamilton County Board of Supervisors and the Hamilton County recorder have willfully refused to perform the duties of the office, and have been and continue to be in clear violation" of the law, the association wrote in a letter to the Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller.

The failure to participate, advocates of the system claim, slows land transaction recording, increases costs, and makes it unnecessarily difficult for the public to obtain records.

Deb Winkle, Allamakee County Recorder and President of the Iowa County Recorders Association said "This is the way things are. People want to sit at home and pull up [public] documents." 

The system, which was shut down in 2008 over privacy concerns is costing taxpayers millions of dollars.  A new redaction system that will cost about $2.4 million, is funded by an additional recording charge of $2 per transaction.  Still, Hamilton and Hardin counties argue that it doesn't go far enough. 

“They are still not removing information I consider to be a possible threat,” says Kim Anderson, Hamilton County Recorder. “It will have your name, your address, your marital status, possibly your birthday, it’ll have your signature which can be cut and pasted into any document.” Anderson is not opposed to "indexing" real estate records, but she is concerned about the "wholesale reproduction of documents for Internet-access" that contain personal and confidential information.

As we have discussed many times in the past on Source of Title, Iowa is very different from other states when it comes to title insurance.  In fact, Iowa has done away with private title insurance in favor of the Iowa Title Guaranty Division - a state run alternative to traditional title insurance.  One of the main requirements is that a participating abstractor prepare an abstract to be reviewed by an attorney.  In order to become a "participating abstractor" one must "own or lease, and maintain and use in the preparation of abstracts, an up-to-date abstract title plant including tract indices for real estate for each county in which abstracts are prepared." 

I fail to see the point in mandating that counties contribute their records to an online system when it apparently isn't even good enough to be used in the title insurance system.  Is it really essential to provide access so people can sit at home and pull up public records?

As I have always maintained, the danger of allowing this is that the Internet is global. If John Q. Public can sit at home and peruse the public records, so can anyone in Nigeria... or wherever the latest hot spot is for Internet scams and cons.

I'm glad that we have some public officials who understand the risks and that they have the backbone to stand up for the protection of their local citizens.  Why is there, all of the sudden, some great need to put everything on the Internet?  The system works without it and last I checked there is no Constitutional right to sit at home in your pajamas and access the public records.  If you need something in the public records - get dressed and go to the courthouse!

I fail to see the correlation between online records and the claims that if they don't do this it will slow real estate transactions.  Clearly, abstractors will still be required to use their own, or leased, title plants for purposes of the Iowa Title Guaranty program.  It seems to me that requiring this online system can only be the beginning of the end to what Iowa has always believed was a superior system.



Categories: Abstractors, Legislation, Technology, Title Industry

1014 words | 3265 views | 4 comments | log in or register to post a comment

Internet Access to Public Records

What I find interesting is that Iowa went off line when it was discovered that a 'Politician's" social security number was discovered by him to be on a mortgage or deed of property he owned.

Same thing happened in Suffolk County New York a few years back.

I wonder if this would have happened if an average Joe found his ss # on documents of his that he found on line?

by Jessica Talley | 2010/05/25 | log in or register to post a reply

Online Records

  A factor that resonates with me is the privacy advocate's contention that signatures can be clipped and pasted easily. 

  Robert is correct, that this would make it easy for scammers in Nigeria or anywhere to commt fraud.  I would remind everyone that the focus should not be on foreign fraudsters alone.  Before Oklahoma City, few people would have expected to be the victim of home-grown terrorists, but it did happen, and still does.  I'm not saying "report on your neighbor", but do exercise reason when operating in the world.  A ounce of prevention....

  Anyway, a point to also keep in mind is that, when good title practices are used, access to signatures can also help to prevent fraud.  Comparing signatures from one document to the next in a title chain can raise concerns, suspicions and questions that will only be clarified by a good chain of pratices being followed, involving Statements of Identity, notaries, and other verification mechanisms.  Yet, all too often, such procedures are not followed, as it is easier to pay out a claim at the other end of the process and take the claim cost as a tax write-off under "cost-of-doing-business".

  Another point to be  made about signatures is that they are, under some legal traditions, part and parcel to your personal property (why do you thing celebs charge huge fees to  autograph photos?).  Really, if this is the case, then it can be argued that posting them online when you never agreed to that twenty years ago when signing your mortgage paper, might violate your privacy and property rights. 

  As ya'll know, I'm very much in favor of public records being online.  However, I do not have a problem with redacting information.  As to address and marital status, these are easily found on Google Maps,, wedding registry sites, newspaper announcement search sites and a dozen other places, so I am hardly worried about those red herrings.





by William Pattison | 2010/06/01 | log in or register to post a reply

True... but...

Comparing signatures from one document to the next in a title chain can raise concerns, suspicions and questions that will only be clarified by a good chain of practices being followed, involving Statements of Identity, notaries, and other verification mechanisms.

My fear is that one day, abstractors may be held responsible for NOT identifying inconsistent signatures on documents. The burden should not fall on abstractors to point out potential forgeries.  I do agree that abstractors should keep an eye out for them and when detected it should be noted on the search.  However, I see that more as a courtesy than a requirement.  After all, we are not handwriting experts and we shouldn't have to print every document so we can compare them side by side to evaluate their authenticity. 

We should be able to rely on recorded documents as being what they purport to be.  But that may change as fraud become more prevalent.  Sooner or later, someone will claim that the abstractor was negligent in not noticing a red flag of forgery.


by Robert Franco | 2010/06/02 | log in or register to post a reply


  I think that a way to respond to this is to encourage every abstractor to be aware of this potential claim issue so that they can, beforehand and with forethought, provide a good disclosure as part and parcel to their contracts and report which address this issue.  Now is a good time for each of us to review our contracts, report templates and insurance coverage in order to make sure that this issue is covered by each. 

  To wait for a claim or case to arise is irresponsible, and I've already reviewed and altered each of my papers to better expound on this matter.  My contracts are pages long, as are my disclosure notices, and this one adds a good paragraph to the contemplation of suh matters. 

  Next, I am going over with my staff today to ensure that our internal procedures are stronger and better in reviewing papers in light of this discussion.  I do not believe that we've failed in this regard, but using this as a good training point is a great refresher on the matter.

   Once again, I seem to fall to the role of devil's advocate:  We are more experienced and knowledgable about handwriting issues than most people.  Most of us analyze, parse and discern handwriting on old indices and documents that would be unreadable to the Common Man.  Going back to the 1960's puts us into handprinted and cursive-written papers on digital reels, old books and microfilms.  We, more than almost any other profession, deal in old hand-scribed works (actually, doing the additional genealogy work that we do here, we REALLY get into the old records in this way too, so I have even less basis for not being able to discern signatures on a professional level).  I think doctor's secretaries and pharmacists are the only professionals outside of CSI Miami that can read a scribble better.  lol

by William Pattison | 2010/06/14 | log in or register to post a reply
Source of Title Blog

Robert A. FrancoThe focus of this blog will be on sharing my thoughts and concerns related to the small title agents and abstractors. The industry has changed dramatically over the past ten years and I believe that we are just seeing the beginning. As the evolution continues, what will become of the many small independent title professionals who have long been the cornerstone of the industry?

Robert A. Franco



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