Professor Gregory Boller and his students at the University of Memphis published an article "Taking Stock In Congress" some time ago. It used information available on public databases to link the voting records of U.S. Representatives and Senators to
their personal stock-trading.
This information is in the public domain but not ordinarily available to citizens who don't know how or where to look. It revealed some intriguing correlation's.
By combining the databases that track the voting and investing information with a network that distributes the information, in this case a Web site, it becomes possible to provide a citizen's guide to who owns who in Washington.
Mojo Wire43, is the Website which connects the databases into a "Taking Stock in Congress" section where citizens can follow the stock transactions and voting records of "83 members of Congress who purchased or sold stocks near the time of Congressional votes or other government actions relevant to the stocks' value."
There have been some interesting revelations. " Senator. Alfonse D'Amato (R-NY) bought up public utilities stock just two days
before President Bush signed the National Energy Conservation Act, which deregulated energy transmissions, offering growth opportunities for many utilities.
Newt Gingrich (R-GA) helped kill amendments to cut funding for the space station program just three weeks after buying stock in Boeing, which was subsequently named the prime contractor for the station.
Senator Lloyd Bentsen (D-TX) bought stock in a food and dairy company, Morningstar Foods, four days before the introduction of an amendment to the National School Lunch Act. The amendment called for diversifying milk choices for school
lunch programs, opening the door for Morningstar's various milk products. Later that year Bentsen unloaded his Morningstar stock just before the Justice Department opened a probe into the company for bid-rigging."
Another Website that provides useful information about funding sources of political campaigns is the Center for Public Integrity44. CPI founder Charles Lewis was an emmy-nominated investigative reporter for CBS News and ABC News, and is the author of The Buying of the President (Avon 1996).
The combination of public information and modest computer savvy makes it possible to track the assets of the top Presidential candidates, including honoraria paid to candidates while holding public office, trips taken, identity of largest contributors.
This is a legitimate activity and especially so for people in public life. If it was applied to the non-executive chairmen of companies or even the corporate affairs directors of corporations, would it be an infringement of their civil liberties?
This kind of behaviour falls within the realm of cyber stalking. Where to draw the line is an issue. It is not difficult to find out information about people.
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This ability to source information from disparate resources, add then together an adversely influence corporate reputation is a potential hazard in many ways. In particular in the case of Cyber Stalking. There are cases where cyber stalkers have created sites about employees.
Since February 1997, Bill Sheering has operated a Web site which contains four general types of content: (1) Sheehan's grievances against government officials and private parties, most of them credit reporting agencies and debt collection services; (2) Strongly worded expressions of opinion (e.g., referring to a corporation as "criminally insane," etc); (3) allegations about corporations and persons which were claimed to be defamatory; (4) Information about employees of companies.
After Sheehan filed his lawsuit, he added to the Web site information regarding defendants' outside counsel.
The information about employees includes home addresses; street maps identifying the locations of the addresses; home telephone numbers; fax numbers; social security numbers; photographs of automobiles and their license plates which appear to have been taken in public; and photographs of people which appear to have been taken in public. Sheehan declares that he obtained this information lawfully, from such public information sources as the Washington Secretary of State and other Internet sites.
Sheehan's Web site contains no explicit encouragement for readers to engage in any specific conduct, or to use the information about employees or attorneys in any specific way. Other than the actions of Sheehan himself, the record contains no evidence that any other person has ever contacted any employee or any individual identified in Sheehan's Web site, as a result of viewing the site. (a map taken from Sheehan's site)
Never-the-less, there are details, shown on the Web site and presented in court about a number of employees of a number of companies.
The protection of employees, and in particular employees whose reputation is valuable to the company is a matter of reputation management. The legal case is difficult to follow round the world and so protection is the first line of defence.
There's no question that cults, conspiracy groups, and the lunatic fringe have found homes on the Internet. Nor should this surprise us. The Internet is, if nothing else, an effective medium. Of course fringe groups are going to take advantage of this
technology. How could they not? The key for reputation management is to be aware of the problems and to ensure that all employees are aware and alert to these issues.