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Fact Finding: Locating & Researching Persons, Companies, and Property: Restraints on Usage

This guide offers paid and free resources for locating contact information, financials, and other information about individuals and business entities.

Federal Privacy Laws

Most commercial sources of personal background information (Lexis Public Records, Westlaw People Map and TLO, for example) require that you declare whether you have no permissible use or a limited permissible use under two different federal laws, based on your relationship to the person you are researching. Some platforms (such as Lexis) allow you to select a "default permissible use" that will be applied each time you view those records. Others require you to select permissible uses each time you access those resources. The two laws at issue are the Driver's Privacy Protection Act (DPPA) and the (GBLA). Below is a brief description of those acts and the categories of permissible use available for each. 

If you do NOT have a relationship with the person you are researching, you must select "No Permissible Use"

NOTE: even with a permissible use, you may not be able to access records from all states. Pennsylvania is very protective and typically does NOT release information under ANY permissible use. See the "Permissible Use" list on your research platform to see what states and state information is included in each permissible use. Some states/databases may be available under some permissible uses but not others.

Individual Site Restrictions

Some sites limit the use of their data to a specific purpose. Researchers should be on the lookout for these types of statements which are usually labeled as "Notice," "Restrictions on Use," "Permissible Uses" and the like. Failure to abide by these restrictions could result in civil or criminal penalties, particularly if it is information provided by a government agency.

For example the Federal Election Commission states on its website that:

"Reports and statements filed by political committees may be inspected and copied by anyone. The names and addresses of individual contributors, however, may not be sold or used for any commercial purpose or to solicit any type of contribution or donation, such as political or charitable contributions. 2 U.S.C. §438(a)(4); 11 CFR 104.15. This restriction applies to Federal reports and statements. Any person who violates this restriction is subject to the penalties of 2 U.S.C. §437g."

 

Fair Credit Reporting Act Notice

Most commercial sites also have a notice similar to the language below, in addition to the GLBA & DPPA Permissible Uses:

   The data provided to you by use of this product is not provided by ‘consumer reporting agencies,’ as that term is defined in the Fair Credit Reporting Act (15 U.S.C. § 1681, et seq.) ("FCRA") and does not constitute a "consumer report," as that term is defined in the FCRA. You hereby agree you will not use or allow the use of the data provided to you to be used in whole or in part as a factor in determining eligibility for credit, insurance, or employment or for any other eligibility purpose that would qualify it as a consumer report under the FCRA. 

 

Ethical Use of Online Information

DPPA & GLBA Permissible Use Categories

NOTE: even with a permissible use, you may not be able to access records from all states. Pennsylvania is very protective and typically does NOT release information under ANY permissible use. See the "Permissible Use" list on your research platform to see what states and state information is included in each permissible use. Some states/databases may be available under some permissible uses but not others.

DPPA Permissible Uses:

  • I have no Permissible Use: searches Unregulated Data Only

  • Private Investigativelicensed private investigators and security services only

  • LitigationUse in connection with any proceeding (including arbitration) in any court or government agency, or before any self-regulatory body, including investigation in anticipation of litigation

  • Debt Recovery/Fraud Collections: Use to verify the accuracy of information about a person who provided the information to you (or to your client) but only if used to recover on a debt against the person or to pursue legal remedies against the person for fraud.

  • Business: Use in the normal course of business to verify accuracy of personal information submitted BY THE INDIVIDUAL

  • On Government Behalf: Use by a government agency, including any court or law enforcement agency, to carry out its duties.

  • Insurer-Underwriting: For use by insurer or agent in connection with claims investigation activities, antifraud activities, rating or underwriting.

  • Insurer - Claims: Use by an insurer (or its agent) in connection with claims investigation activities, antifraud activities, rating or underwriting.

  • Motor Vehicle Safety: Use (except by or for a motor vehicle manufacturer) in connection with motor vehicle safety or theft, or driver safety. Use in connection with matters of motor vehicle or driver safety and theft; motor vehicle product alterations, recalls, advisories; performance monitoring of motor vehicles, motor vehicle parts and dealers; motor vehicle market research activities, including survey research; and removal of non-owner records from the original owner records of motor vehicle manufacturers
  • Employment CDL: Use by an employer or its agent or insurer to obtain or verify information relating to a holder of a commercial driver’s license.

GLBA Permissible Uses:

  • I have no Permissible Use: searches Unregulated Data Only 

  • Fraud Prevention or Detections: to protect against or prevent actual or potential fraud, unauthorized transactions, claims or other liability

  • Legal Compliance: to comply with Federal, State, or local laws, rules, and other applicable legal requirements

  • Required Institutional Risk Control: For required institutional risk control, or for resolving customer disputes or inquiries

  • Transactions Authorized by Consumer: As necessary to effect, administer, or enforce a transaction requested or authorized by the consumer

  • Persons Acting in a Fiduciary Capacity for Consumer: For use by persons acting in a fiduciary or representative capacity on behalf of the consumer

  • Persons with a Legal or Beneficial Interest re Consumer For use by persons holding a legal or beneficial interest relating to the consumer

  • Resolving Customer Disputes or Inquiries: For use in resolving customer disputes or inquiries

  • As allowed by the Right to Financial Privacy Act of 1978: For use to the extent specifically permitted or required under other provisions of law and in accordance with the Right to Financial Privacy Act of 1978, to law enforcement agencies (including a Federal functional regulator, the Secretary of Treasury, a State insurance authority, or the Federal Trade Commission), self-regulatory organizations, or for an investigation on a matter related to public safety