Law School, Lexis-Nexis and the World of Cyber Stalking
- Oct 19, 2009
- Law School, Law School Life
First off, I want to give a hearty congratulation to everyone who got the score they were hoping for this past weekend. Just think, in less than a year, a website may be underpaying you to write about your experiences as a 1L, so it can be read and commented on primarily by other employees. That’s right, dream big. For those of you less happy with the LSAT, join the club. After Colin decided to wake me up with his score in a 3AM text (time difference buddy, thanks so much), my competitiveness was also awoken full force, making it seem like a good idea to spend my Saturday taking a practice test to see how I measured up. Good news is: I still got it. Bad news is it doesn’t matter anymore, and I lost three hours of my life.
As you can all probably understand, after taking a practice LSAT I didn’t want to read anything more strenuous than a take out menu or Dan Brown novel, so I packed up my schoolwork and proceeded with my not so academic Saturday plans. Tragically, the effects of those Saturday plans lasted well into Sunday, and when I finally sat down to get my reading done I was determined not to be distracted.
That determination lasted about as long as a Britney sobriety attempt, and instead I began thinking about something I had learned in my legal research class. For some background on the issue, law students and lawyers use two main databases, Lexis Nexis and West Law, to research statutes, court cases, articles, etc. 1Ls receive training to use these databases, and while instructing us on the mind boggling effects of words like “or” and “and” on database search parameters, our Lexis instructor had briefly mentioned that there was a database of all public records on the site and “joked” that we could all look ourselves up later. Due to the painfully slow law school wireless, I didn’t get the chance to check it out then, and completely forgot about it. Luckily, in my moment of procrastinatory need, it all came flooding back to me.
Now, to start, I am not a big fan of all the personal information available on the internet. To be honest, even Facebook creeps me out. It’s not that I mind that people can see information about me, after all I control what’s up there and won’t friend you if I don’t want you to see it. Rather it bothers me that there are people I’ve only met four times in my life, but thanks to my obnoxious feed I know more about their experiences abroad or recently born offspring than their biological relatives do. Googling people is even worse, since that information hasn’t even been voluntarily offered up for your consumption. And don’t give me the, But wait, what if he’s an axe murderer? excuse for looking up new men. Here’s a hint, if there is even a chance that your dating pool includes people who may be on parole, you have problems Google can never solve. You are going to need a better excuse for your minor league stalker habits.
On the other hand, I have no problem looking myself up (gotta know what the kids are saying about you, after all), so I found the correct database on Lexis and entered my name. I figured I’d find my age and maybe a city or two where I’d lived, and instead was floored by how much information was available. I was chatting with a friend at the same time, and told him how creeped out I was. He told me to stop being ridiculous. So, with his permission, I searched him, and he stopped judging when I gave him three quarters of his social security number, past three addresses, phone number, political party and state in which he was registered to vote, the last time he voted (not such a big Obama supporter after all, huh?), and birth date. Then, since I do have problems that Google can never solve, I ran a quick search of his criminal records (yeah, you can do that too) and asked exactly what he was doing in Michigan in 2004 to warrant misdemeanor charges. I could also have checked what property or businesses he owned, if he’d filed for bankruptcy in the past and if he had any special licenses, among other things. This was Google stalking on crack.
Suddenly I had a vision of myself, stuck at my desk until January, methodically searching every person I’ve ever met until my law school kicked me out for not attending finals and my Lexis account was finally deactivated. Terrified, I logged out immediately, and vowed to only use the database in the future for reasons relating directly to legal work. Not only will that help to ensure I don’t fail out of law school because I’ve become a creepy apartment hermit, but it also seems ethically solid to not abuse resources or violate my friends’ privacy. Plus I’d put off my reading for almost thirty-six hours by that point, and really had to get started.
Still, I’m definitely bothered by how easily that information can be found. Sure, records are kept for a reason, and it makes sense that certain people and professions should have access to them. I could even understand why real lawyers should be able to search that information. But really, any random 1L in the nation? Since most of us have grown up in a culture that accepts or even encourages cyberspace super-sleuthing, I’m sure there are plenty of students who wouldn’t think twice about using the database. Call me crazy, but I don’t like that my classmates could discover the value of my father’s house in less time than it takes Madonna to save the world.
Although, now that I think about it, it would be interesting if I could figure out the value of Madge’s house. I hope that keeping my non frivolous search vow isn’t going to be harder than I thought….
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