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Publicly Available Personal Information

What Is Publicly Available Personal Information?

Publicly available personal information is data about an individual that the general public can legally access without restrictions. This type of information is typically not protected under privacy laws and can be found in various publicly accessible sources. 

The availability and scope of publicly accessible personal information can vary widely based on local laws and regulations, which may dictate what types of information can be made public and under what circumstances.

Third-party definition 

Information that is available to the general public, such as names and addresses in a telephone book. Certain data privacy regulations treat publicly available information separately from other personal information. – Osano

Publicly Available Personal Information vs Publicly Available Information

The key difference between “publicly available personal information” and “publicly available information” is how the data relates to an individual’s identity:

Publicly available personal information specifically refers to data tied directly to an individual’s identity and legally accessible by the public. This information can include names, contact information, public records (like court and marriage records), and any other data that can be linked directly to individuals.

Publicly available information is a broader category that includes any information the public can legally access. This information might be related to individuals, entities, organizations, or general data about phenomena (like weather statistics, geographic data, etc.).

Publicly Available Personal Information Examples

  • Government records. Information available in public records such as electoral rolls, court records, and government-issued databases. These may include legal judgments, marriage and birth records, or voter registration lists.
  • Publicly accessible databases. Databases that contain information on professional licenses, business records, and real estate transactions.
  • Social media and online platforms. Information that individuals voluntarily share on social media platforms, blogs, personal websites, and forums. This includes names, photos, job positions, and any other details that the user chooses to make public.
  • Media publications. Information published in the media, such as newspapers, magazines, and online news sites. This includes articles, reports, and public announcements that may identify individuals and their activities.
  • Directory information. Listings in public directories such as phone books or professional directories that typically include names, addresses, telephone numbers, and sometimes email addresses.

Legal Landscape of Publicly Available Personal Information

Under the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) in Europe, the availability of personal data in the public domain does not exempt data processors from adhering to the strict data protection standards set forth by the regulation. 

On the other hand, in the US, many state consumer data privacy laws exempt “publicly available information” from their definitions of personal information.

For example, the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) says that:

“Personal information does not include publicly available information that is from federal, state, or local government records, such as professional licenses and public real estate/property records. The definition of publicly available information also includes information that a business has a reasonable basis to believe is lawfully made available to the general public by the consumer or from widely distributed media, or certain information disclosed by a consumer and made available if the consumer has not restricted the information to a specific audience.”

Limiting the Amount of Personal Information That Is Publicly Available

While it’s difficult to completely prevent some types of information from being publicly accessible, especially data in government records or other official documents, here are five steps you can take to improve your data privacy:

  • Manage your online privacy settings. Adjust the privacy settings on all online accounts, including retail and social networking, to restrict who can see your posts, profile information, and photos. Only share personal information when absolutely necessary.
  • Opt out of data brokers. These companies collect your personal information from various sources and sell it to anyone who wants it. Many data brokers let you opt out of their databases. Services like DeleteMe can help automate the opt-out process from multiple data brokers.
  • Be mindful of public records. Be cautious about where and why you provide your personal information, especially in contexts that could become part of the public record, such as public comments. In certain situations, such as safety risks, you might be able to request that records be sealed or that personal information be redacted from public documents.
  • Regularly monitor your information. Set up Google alerts for your name and other personal identifiers to monitor where your information appears online.
  • Stay informed. Understanding the latest privacy laws, such as the CCPA or GDPR, can help you better manage your personal data rights and understand what measures you can legally request to protect your privacy. For example, in some jurisdictions, such as the EU, under the GDPR, you may request the deletion of personal information from certain records, including some that are publicly accessible online.