Courtney Levine, Police1 BrandFocus contributor
Spam phone calls seem like an invasion of privacy to most of us, interrupting our day and making us wonder how these companies got our phone number in the first place. For law enforcement officers, a lack of online privacy can lead to more than just an annoying phone call.
Since 2018, Pete James, owner of OfficerPrivacy.com and a retired lieutenant with the Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department, has been working to protect police officers and their families from harassment by minimizing their digital footprint. Like civilians, LEOs’ addresses, phone numbers, and email addresses can usually be found on the Internet, making them an easy target.
“Let’s say the media named four officers involved in the shooting,” James said. “Three have used our services and their digital footprint has been reduced, and one has not. Where are the protesters going to show up? They are going to show up on someone who has done nothing to protect their privacy.”
The above scenario is more common than you might think, but there are still common myths about online privacy polices. Let’s debunk five common myths that can hinder your safety and the safety of your family.
MYTH #1 – THERE IS NOTHING I CAN DO TO GET MY INFORMATION ONLINE
The Internet has become a large part of most people’s lives and often seems out of control. Many law enforcement officers believe that nothing can be done to prevent their information from being published on the Internet.
“People think that because they can’t be completely erased from the Internet, they shouldn’t even bother,” James said. “My question is, do you lock the front door? why Someone can always come in.”
While OfficerPrivacy.com cannot completely remove someone from the Internet, they can remove personal information from the top 50 people finder sites and make it harder to find you.
MYTH #2 – PEOPLE CAN’T FIND MY INFORMATION BECAUSE I’M NOT ON SOCIAL MEDIA
Not being on Facebook or Twitter doesn’t mean you don’t have an online presence. Social media is just one of the resources these data brokers use to gather information, James says.
Officers with social media accounts need to be vigilant about the types of details they share, as a single photo with family members or a tagged location can inadvertently provide information to those with malicious intent.
Even if you don’t have social media accounts, you can still be at risk. James recommends that law enforcement officials do everything they can to remove their information from the Internet, even if they believe their digital footprint is small.
MYTH #3 – NO ONE WILL TARGET ME, I HAVE AN ADMINISTRATIVE POSITION
It is not always the officer who is at the center of the case who risks becoming a victim of persecution. If an individual wants to target a LEO or their family, all it takes is a little Internet research to find personal information.
“You might not be the one involved in the shooting on the field, but that doesn’t stop someone from seeing your name at the bottom of the report or being that person’s supervisor, and then they’ll come after you, too,” James said.
If your name is on any paperwork, he adds, or if you’re identified as a law enforcement officer, you’re at risk.
MYTH #4 – I’M RETIRED SO NO ONE WILL EVER EXPECT TO REPRESENT ME
When a LEO’s career ends, his influence on the general public does not automatically disappear. If a cop helped solve a case 20 years ago and the criminal just got out of prison, there’s little stopping them from looking for the cop who helped catch them.
“Do they hold a grudge?” James said. “It won’t take much for them to find you, even if you’re already retired. You don’t want your pension cut off because someone you let out 20 years ago got out of prison and now wants revenge.”
Like it or not, being fired from law enforcement doesn’t change the legacy an officer leaves behind, so it’s just as important to focus on your online privacy at this point in life.
MYTH #5 – REMOVING MY INFORMATION FROM THE INTERNET IS NOT WORTH THE MONEY
Trying to figure out how to remove your personal information from one people-finding site can be time-consuming, let alone going through the process for 50 sites. This usually results in officers hiring a company to do all the steps for them, but James cautions that in this case, you get what you pay for.
Some organizations hire contractors outside the US to remove customer information from people search sites, literally putting your personal data in the hands of unknown people.
Other companies rely on state civil codes that allow police officers to request that their information be removed from public information databases, but require proof that you are a LEO.
“I don’t outsource to other countries,” he said. “I never identify my clients as law enforcement like many others do. It’s dangerous because when you use civil code to tell a site to remove your information, you don’t know who’s behind those companies or who they’re selling their listings to.”
TWO OPTIONS TO GET YOUR PRIVACY BACK
Reducing your digital footprint doesn’t have to be time-consuming or difficult. OfficerPrivacy.com offers law enforcement officers two ways to reduce the risk of harassment.
- The Do It Yourself option provides access to special software that helps you remove your personal information from people-finding sites. After an initial 14-day free trial, a small monthly fee allows you to continue using the software.
- LEOs who want more protection can choose the We Do It All for You plan. It ensures continuous monitoring and removal of your information from the top 50 people finder sites without you having to lift a finger.
“While no one can make you invisible, we make you much harder to find, and that’s the goal,” James said.
visit OfficerPrivacy.com for more information.
Read more: Tips on how police officers can protect their privacy online