Government Sells Your Private Data To Marketing Companies


Why pay taxes when the government can use you – and your personal information – as a cash cow?

By selling data about individuals to marketing companies – and who has more data on people than the government? – the state can profit handsomely. And government doesn’t need to inform you about what’s going on, nor does it need your permission.

According to an investigative report by CBS Denver, that’s exactly what government – at every level – is doing.

The report interviewed a local businessman who’d begun suspecting that the deluge of well-targeted marketing material inundating his mailbox seemed to come from a source that must be highly informed about his preferences, habits and even recent major events in his life.

He was right: the Colorado Secretary of State’s office was selling his data. A spokesperson for the office confirmed that business owners’ information can be sold to private third-party marketing outfits for anywhere from $200 to $12,000 a pop. And the practice is still young and ripe for enrichment: the Secretary of State only made $59,000 from such sales last year.

“It feels like a betrayal,” said business owner Eric Meer, “Because our government is supposed to protect us, not to sell our information and profit from us.”

In addition to information about people who run their own businesses, the Secretary of State’s office in Colorado also sold voter registration information to marketing companies. Like the business data, the office claims that sale was a cost-recovery operation intended only to help defray the office’s costs of associated with database management.

(As an aside, how hard can it really be to go through the supposedly controversial voter verification process when people you don’t even know can tell you if you’re a registered voter?)

On the local level, Denver’s city clerk’s office sells homeowners’ data in cases involving foreclosures, refinancings or direct home sales. And it doesn’t stop there:

Do you ever notice a surge of confusing mail after refinancing, a foreclosure, or buying a house? The Denver Clerk and Recorder made $32,000 last year selling home sale data.

It happens in college, too. The University of Colorado Boulder buys names from the SAT for 33 cents each and names from the ACT for 34 cents each for recruiting purposes. CU sells student information to private meal plans and storage companies for $15,000 a year.

Even death is for sale. The Social Security Administration sells a “Master Death Index” for $7,500 each. The result – an onslaught of letters to surviving family members asking to purchase a home.

While it’s possible for people to limit phone contact from telemarketers by opting onto “do not call” lists, opponents of government data mining for profit have faced strong opposition from the Direct Marketing Association in mounting similar efforts to establish a “do not mail” list.

And, even if such a list ever comes into existence, the root of the problem – boundless government that answers not to citizens but to profit-motivated third parties – will remain.

Personal Liberty

Ben Bullard

Reconciling the concept of individual sovereignty with conscientious participation in the modern American political process is a continuing preoccupation for staff writer Ben Bullard. A former community newspaper writer, Bullard has closely observed the manner in which well-meaning small-town politicians and policy makers often accept, unthinkingly, their increasingly marginal role in shaping the quality of their own lives, as well as those of the people whom they serve. He argues that American public policy is plagued by inscrutable and corrupt motives on a national scale, a fundamental problem which individuals, families and communities must strive to solve. This, he argues, can be achieved only as Americans rediscover the principal role each citizen plays in enriching the welfare of our Republic.

Join the Discussion

Comment Policy: We encourage an open discussion with a wide range of viewpoints, even extreme ones, but we will not tolerate racism, profanity or slanderous comments toward the author(s) or comment participants. Make your case passionately, but civilly. Please don't stoop to name calling. We use filters for spam protection. If your comment does not appear, it is likely because it violates the above policy or contains links or language typical of spam. We reserve the right to remove comments at our discretion.

  • Chris

    Is this why I continue to get telemarketing calls AFTER I place myself on the “so-called” do-not-call list????????

    • Chester

      Chris, there ARE people out there who don’t bother to check that list, AND there are people who aren’t obliged to follow it. That latter group includes anyone you have ever done business with, unless and until you specifically notify THEM that they are not supposed to call you.

      • Robert Messmer

        Besides there is a general grace period of 31 days where they can still call. It also does not apply to calls from or on behalf of political organizations, charities, and telephone surveyors would still be permitted, as would calls from companies with which you have an existing business relationship, or those to whom you’ve provided express agreement in writing to receive their calls. The existing business relationship exists for 18 months after your last payment, etc to that business. If you inquire of a business, ie call the local theater and ask what time the movie starts, then they are exempt for 3 months.

        • Chris

          Yes, Robert………..I know all this. The calls I get are from companies I never dealt with or submitted inquiries to. As far as my “charities” go, I tell them since they are ALREADY sending me mail by the post office “and” internet, to take my name off their call list because if I get one more call, I will never donate again……….so far THAT seems to work :)

      • Chris

        Yes, Chester………I know about the latter group……same for getting emails. However, the calls I get are from places I never had anything to do with or ever called! One time there was an ad on my answering machine from a dentist who was no where in my area………I had fun calling back and blasting them.

  • Bill

    This is the governments latest idea to raise revenue. How about promoting capitalism instead

  • Alan

    If there is a master death list you would think it easier to stop the dead from voting,unless of course they sell the list to dummycrats as voter registration lists.

  • rivahmitch

    There used to be a bumper sticker: “Fight Crime… the Government Hates the Competition”. Truer words were never printed…Now they’re competing at the accessory level as well.

  • Michael Shreve

    “OUR” governments, FORCE use to provide personal information, even SPY on US, and SELL the information without of knowledge or permission. FREE country?

  • adrianvance

    No more powerful marketing tool exists. I have owned a mail order business and can tell you it makes a huge difference if you can target mailings. It also will keep incumbents in power which means the end of Republicans.

    See The Two Minute Conservative via Google or: and when you speak ladies will swoon and liberal gentlemen will weep.

  • Glint

    Well if are government is doing this . No more Taxes I wil pay and I will only then work for cash or trade labor for things Were I don’t have to pay taxes again Thank you law makers for making up my mind for not paying taxes

  • ibn insha

    The same government that tells businesses that hey have sold their souls to almighty dollar actually makes money on citizens’ information. Pot calling kettle black.