Don't use your home address when subscribing to magazines or for deliveries. Use your postal mailbox for magazine subscriptions. Have deliveries sent to your place of work or a postal annex location to keep your home address secure.
Use an unlisted and unpublished phone number. Getting an unlisted, unpublished home telephone number is a must for every police officer. Once your telephone number and address are published in the telephone book, it is considered public information and anyone can use it.
An unlisted phone number may still be available to the public if you give it out to others or use it on legal documents that become public records. You should have caller ID on your home and cell phone to prevent your phone number from being displayed when you make calls. You can also use the *82 feature before each call to unblock your number if needed or block selective calls with *67 before calling the number. Sign up for the national Do-Not-Call Registry to keep your number private. If you haven't done so already, register your telephone number(s) by calling (888) 382-1222.
Remove your name and address from reverse directories and street address directories. Enter your residential phone number, including area code, on Google for example. If your number is listed, you'll get your name, address, and a map to your home.
Click on "phonebook results" above your name to go to a page that shows you how to remove your listing. Following the instructions for removing your listing will also lead you to links to other online reverse directories from which you can remove your information.
Use Operation Opt-Out to get your name and address out of many databases and mailing lists. Many companies say that they care about your privacy and that they give you the option to get off (or "opt out") of lists that share your information. Some companies make the task of opting out relatively easy and may allow you to do it online, while others go a step further and ask your permission (opt in) before sharing information about you.
However, in many cases, companies make it difficult for you to opt out and you can't opt out online. The non-profit Center for Democracy and Technology's Operation Opt-Out Website, at http://opt-out.cdt.org, makes it easy to opt out of having your personal information shared and sold by many companies. The site's "Generate Opt-Out Forms" section lets you print out letters addressed to many companies that do not offer a way to opt out online.
Protect your communications. E-mail is not as secure a medium as many people think. Messages can be easily rerouted and read by unintended third parties. Messages are also often saved for indefinite amounts of time. However, there is a technology that allows you to encrypt your messages to protect them. One popular encryption software is called Pretty Good Privacy (PGP).
When you go to a Website a log is kept with information about your visit. Most of us walk down the street every day without being recognized or tracked. We often take this anonymity for granted in the real world. Unfortunately, this luxury is not automatic online. There are tools, however, for stripping out the information about you. For example, Freedom.net and Anonymizer.com both allow you to conceal your information when doing business online.
Tell your financial institutions not to share your personal information. Read the privacy notices sent to you by your bank, credit card issuers, insurance companies, and investment companies. Look for opportunities to opt out of having your personal information shared with other companies. You don't have to wait for the annual notice to take advantage of your opt-out rights. In addition, when you give money to a charity or other group, ask them not to share your name and address. Enclose a note with your donation, asking them not to share, sell, or rent your name to any other organization.
If your state allows it, remove your information from public record databases. California, for example, affords the right to police officers to have their home address and telephone number, and those of their spouses and children who reside with them, removed from "public posting or display on the Internet."
It's my hope that you will think about the potential danger associated with going online, the impact it can have on your reputation, your career, your children, and your personal safety. There are a lot of bad people in the world, I do not need to tell a bunch of cops the obvious, yet many of us are so busy we often forget to protect ourselves as we spend much of our time protecting others.
Matthew O'Deane has been a District Attorney investigator in San Diego since 2002 and has been assigned to the Gang Prosecution Unit. Prior to working for the District Attorney, he worked for the National City Police Department for almost 10 years.