What to do about true but confidential info posted anonymously on the net?
August 5, 2007 7:43 AM   Subscribe

My girlfriend was convicted of a serious felony a decade ago. Now someone has recently started linking to her non-indexed court record page in strange places on the net. Anything we can do?

Upon googling her very unique name a few weeks back, hits started coming up from anonymous postings on message boards with various and random foreign domain names. The posts contain her name, a few words describing her crime, and a link to the court record page.

We're pretty sure we know who's doing it and the posts are an obvious attempt to "spread the word" about her conviction. The big problem is that she hasn't been open about her conviction to her employers, since the crime was committed in a different state and was a fairly serious matter that would be hard to explain. The case wasn't sealed but for some reason never comes up on background searches, and now anyone doing an internet search for her name has the incriminating evidence.

The laws I've read up on are confusing. We frankly don't have the resources to hire a lawyer. We did consult with one, though, and even he said the law is vague, since the information is factual and the places it's posted seem to be all non English-language boards hosted overseas. We've tried to contact a few of the sites, but to no avail. Should we just sit back and hope that this quietly goes away, or is there another solution?
posted by anonymous to Computers & Internet (31 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Has she considered changing her name? That would be my first line of attack. There are many legitimate sounding personal reasons for changing your last name so it's unlikely anyone would be suspicious.
posted by whoaali at 8:22 AM on August 5, 2007

A criminal record is not "confidential info"; it is public knowledge.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 8:37 AM on August 5, 2007 [1 favorite]

If that weren't true, websites that track registered sex offenders (like this one) could not legally exist.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 8:43 AM on August 5, 2007 [1 favorite]

I'm in favor of sitting back and hoping it goes away. I don't see how posting publicly-available information could be illegal (even though it is a jerk thing to do). Just hope for the best.
posted by christinetheslp at 8:45 AM on August 5, 2007

I would suggest instead of focusing on trying to remove the material posted about her (which I think is a hopeless cause), post more material about her to at least add some context to the search results. If she's a professional in a particular field, put up an online resume/portfolio, or just do some social networking pages. At least then there's a bit more information out there.
posted by ukdanae at 8:50 AM on August 5, 2007 [1 favorite]

I second putting more (good) information. If her name is very unique, buy a domain of it. This will almost instantly start getting higher rankings if there's any decent content on it about her.
posted by travis vocino at 8:55 AM on August 5, 2007

It's near impossible to remove information from the Internet once it's out there, even if you do somehow manage to get the original postings taken down, which seems unlikely unless the person making the postings has a change of heart.

What you can do is try create more of an online presence for your girlfriend. She could create a personal website and public profiles on Facebook, MySpace and LinkedIn. Some forum postings of her own on some prominent websites (with her full name) would also be good. This way she could increase the likelihood that someone googeling her name will come to a page she controls, instead of her criminal record.
posted by dyslexictraveler at 9:15 AM on August 5, 2007

Friendster is another site where you can make your page "public" to the search engines.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 9:27 AM on August 5, 2007 [1 favorite]

If you're interested in making the currently-posted references to her felony go away, there's really only one way to do that -- contact the administrators of each of the sites that's hosting the information, ask nicely that they remove the info, and hope that they comply. But know that (a) they don't have to, (b) aggressive approaches will likely make them less likely to, (c) there's likely nothing illegal per se about someone making the information known (since criminal convictions are, almost without exclusion, public information), and (d) the fact that most of the sites appear to you to be foreign make whatever legal options you might have much more vague and hard to enforce.
posted by delfuego at 10:23 AM on August 5, 2007

Start posting your own random bits of information about how your GF has moved to Hawaii, or killed in a fiery crash, changed her name. All sorts of stories, that way should anyone do a Google search on her name they get back a whole host of random info. It becomes hard to tell what is actually true.
posted by maxpower at 10:46 AM on August 5, 2007 [4 favorites]

+1 on the misinformation campaign.

You can't undo what's done, but you can certainly make it impossible to make heads or tails of a google search on her name.
posted by Netzapper at 10:52 AM on August 5, 2007

If the sites are in another jurisdiction, and what's on them is true, you have basically no chance of removing the postings.
posted by oaf at 12:02 PM on August 5, 2007

Yes, flood google with other information, put her name everwhere else. 89% of users never view the second page of a search engine result, according to usability research. 1% visits the third page. I'd bet mostly anything you'll put up will be regarded by google as more relevant than some old criminal record (and thus showing up before it in the search results).
posted by cheerleaders_to_your_funeral at 12:20 PM on August 5, 2007

If you're serious about doing a misinformation campaign, you may also want to clearly construct obvious other people with the same name. Make sure they have activities far away from where your girlfriend is now that they're doing now--make it unclear, not just whether that information is true, but whether that information pertains to your girlfriend or one of these other Janet Kempen-Smith-Klynes.
posted by jacquilynne at 12:25 PM on August 5, 2007

"... The big problem is that she hasn't been open about her conviction to her employers, since the crime was committed in a different state and was a fairly serious matter that would be hard to explain. ... Should we just sit back and hope that this quietly goes away, or is there another solution?"

IANAL, but it is a common understanding that concealing a criminal record, even by omission on employment applications, in order to obtain employment or other material benefits is itself an act of fraud in many jurisdictions. In some situations, the continuing acts of concealment necessary to support such an ongoing fraud (in the form of holding continuing employment on the basis of fraudulent information) would constitute additional, separate acts of fraud. As an employer, my practical advice to those with serious legal problems in their past has always been to be open about them; in many cases, a prior felony conviction, with a conviction and penalty properly discharged, is no barrier to employment, whereas discovery of a concealment of such is an immediate cause for termination, and can be disclosed as such to future potential employers. [After all, both the current President and the Vice-President of the United States have criminal records for DUI.] My suggestion now is that she should approach her employers, and disclose her conviction, and correct any material mis-statements she may have made in applying for her position, before they are apprised of those facts by the party posting these links directly.

Even if that course of action costs her the job she presently holds, it puts her in a position to defang the poisonous campaign she seems to be the target of, going forward. And it clears her decks to pursue expungement or pardon, which are different means of legitimately clearing her name that are available in some jurisdictions to persons with certain felony convictions, who maintain a clean record thereafter for a specified period, and meet other stipulations. A person who has had a criminal record legitimately expunged or pardoned can generally, but not always, answer that they have no criminal record when they are asked about prior convictions and arrests, because that is the effect of those processes on their records. But in some instances, such as for national security clearances or some licensing, they might be required still to acknowledge arrest and conviction, with an explanation of expungement or pardon. Any attorney they engage to aid in preparation of an expungement or pardon petition can advise exactly how to answer such questions in the future, given the particulars of the jurisdiction in which the criminal record exists.

But the situation as it stands is not one upon which a firm future is guaranteed, which is a shame, since a person who has worked to turn her life around, and become gainfully employed, should continue on that honorable path. Tell your girl friend to take the high road, acknowledge and explain her past, and work to clear her name, with your support in doing that. You will both be much better off, in the long run, for the short term risk, costs and psychic discomfort this strategy causes.
posted by paulsc at 12:28 PM on August 5, 2007 [4 favorites]

I think paulsc has the right idea, the only problem is that expungement or pardon doesn't help the fact that her conviction info is on the web.

If you can combine the misinformation with paulsc that would take care of google searches and employment status. Maybe do both?

Good luck!
posted by Salmonberry at 1:07 PM on August 5, 2007

*ahem* "with paulsc's recommendations..."
posted by Salmonberry at 1:07 PM on August 5, 2007

i agree with maxpower, disagree with paulsc whose advice i thought to be somewhat self-serving from his employer perspective. chaff the record. chaff it as much as you can. does your gf have any interest in, e.g., rabbit breeding, antique cars, theoretical physics? whatever it is, get her name out there, take over those first 100 google hits with benign references.
posted by bruce at 1:24 PM on August 5, 2007

Heh, this reminds me of Famous Mefite. Who posted his real name all over the Internet. A couple news articles about a crime they committed got pretty deeply buried on the google search results, I'm looking and nothing even shows up by the fourth page. When he started signing his posts on metafilter the "negative" stories would show up by the 2nd or 3rd page.

But, if your girlfriend changed her name to something extremely common, it would be very difficult to associate pages with her specifically. Something like "Annie smith" or "jane kline" or "Katie Williams" would be good.
posted by delmoi at 1:41 PM on August 5, 2007

"... I think paulsc has the right idea, the only problem is that expungement or pardon doesn't help the fact that her conviction info is on the web. ..."

Not be argumentative, but if the links that are being posted are to state or county Web sites providing criminal history, like sex offender records, then expungement or pardon will cause the record being pointed out to be removed at the source. Effectively, once cache copies expire, removing the record source removes it from the Web, and may break existing hyperlinks.

And taking an open and proactive approach to her past is the only way to prevent escalation of non-Web activity, such as anonymous e-mails to employers and social contacts, or even blackmail, by whoever is posting those Web links.
posted by paulsc at 1:57 PM on August 5, 2007

Ukdanae has it. create a useless blog and hire a internet dude to increase its google page rank. Make sure you have a lot of useless posts too, so they will clog up the first search page. Its the first page you care about, not the rest.
posted by Ironmouth at 5:20 PM on August 5, 2007

Check with a real lawyer in a consultation regarding paulsc's advice.
posted by Ironmouth at 5:21 PM on August 5, 2007

Maybe the best idea is just to go back to a life of crime, carrying around a big ass revolver and blowing away any old motherfucker who would dare ask about your shady past.
posted by Kraftmatic Adjustable Cheese at 5:42 PM on August 5, 2007

Metatalk discussion, for reference.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 6:29 PM on August 5, 2007 [1 favorite]

I read somewhere (I can't remember where) that unmasking a long-forgotten crime of an upstanding citizen is actually a tort. So, quite against what paulsc and others are saying, this active (and diabolical) effort to bring something in your girlfriend's distant past to the attention of people today may actually be actionable.
posted by jayder at 7:14 PM on August 5, 2007

But, if your girlfriend changed her name to something extremely common, it would be very difficult to associate pages with her specifically. Something like "Annie smith" or "jane kline" or "Katie Williams" would be good.

Better yet - change it to match the name of an Idol or Big Brother finalist. There are hundreds of millions of fansites, discussion boards & blogs on those kinds of minor celebs, and they'll crowd out the first thousand pages of Google results.
posted by UbuRoivas at 7:15 PM on August 5, 2007

Check with a real lawyer in a consultation regarding paulsc's advice.

Seconded. He has given some shockingly ill-informed "legal advice" here before, which leads me to regard all of his legal advice as deeply suspect.
posted by jayder at 7:18 PM on August 5, 2007

Your criminal record follows a name-change. In fact, part of a background check involves seeing if the subject has done a name change. So yeah, it would protect you from being idly googled, but not from a truly thorough background check.
posted by chlorus at 8:07 PM on August 5, 2007

One thing to be aware of is that practically every employment application printed in the last 20 years asks the question quite bluntly "Have you ever been convicted of a felony?"

It may be the case she checked "no" even by accident.

If she misrepresented herself to get the job, I would proceed with extreme caution in letting the current employer know.

That is really something you need a lawyer for.

As for the rest, yes, I think filling Google with noise is the best approach.
posted by Ynoxas at 10:31 PM on August 5, 2007

Run in as many "chip" timed races as possible. Within a day or 2, they post your name and time to the web. Since it is a text file (i.e., small) they usually leave them posted for years. Race results from 2000 still come up when you google my name. It would be possible to run at least 2 races per weekend. This would cost a more than just posting junk to the internet but would (a) not look like "Google noise," (b) she would get a lot of t-shirts, (c) she would be supporting good causes and (d) she would get exercise.
posted by probablysteve at 6:08 AM on August 6, 2007 [1 favorite]

Flooding the net with good articles can help, but you might also consider muddying the waters. If her name is fairly unique, why not "invent" another person with the same name, who has a blog, and a photo that is not her, and still lives in the area where the crime happened, etc.

Alternatively, you could propose marriage. What could be more romantic than outrunning a deeply buried criminal history through the classic tradition of marital name changing?
posted by lubujackson at 5:13 PM on August 6, 2007

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