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Personal privacy—and specifically home address privacy—with regard to amateur radio licensure is an issue that has been stewing in the back of my mind for a while. When you acquire an amateur radio license in the United States, personal information including your full legal name, home address, and of course call sign are made part of the public record by the FCC. This has always been the case as far as I know, but with online access to these public records, anyone can go to QRZ.COM to find, e.g., all the licensed hams in a given zip code, or the name and address of a ham given her call sign, or the call sign and address of a ham given part of her name.

I'm not objecting to this information being public necessarily, but I've noticed many hams displaying their call signs (if not their full names) in ways that make me wonder whether they realize how much information they're sharing. Would you post your full name and home address on a public internet forum or mailing list? Wear it on a baseball cap? Have it printed on a bumper sticker on your car? Tell it to a random stranger you've just run across? These are places I've seen or heard people sharing their call signs (substituting "license plate" for "bumper sticker"). Indeed, in the culture of amateur radio it is expected that a ham shares her call sign in nearly all communications contexts, not only over the air but also in person and on the Internet. No doubt many people don't consider their full name or home address to be private information. In some sense when you apply for an amateur radio license you're agreeing to give up that privacy in return for the privilege of operating a licensed amateur radio station, but I wonder how many people realize that. I didn't consider it when I was a teenager applying for a license.

I'd be interested to hear others' thoughts on this subject.

This entry was originally posted at http://bokunenjin.dreamwidth.org/14089.html.


( 6 comments — Leave a comment )
Mar. 24th, 2011 10:10 pm (UTC)
Pilots are in the same situation.
Mar. 24th, 2011 10:39 pm (UTC)
In principle I'm in favor of public records being public, but I also think the Internet has made what started as a quantitative change into a qualitative one. It used to be that if your address was part of a public record, that usually meant someone could go to the local courthouse or law library and look it up. I think that should still be the case. But do think it's reasonable for people to ask that such information not be available instantly online to all; although I'm not sure I know the best way in practice to do this. (Indexes available online, hardcopy only available by written request?)

Along the same lines, I don't really favor tv cameras in courtrooms, although I of course do favor keeping all trials public and open to reporters and the person on the street.
Mar. 25th, 2011 01:23 am (UTC)
Oddly enough, I was thinking the same thing yesterday when I drove past a car with a call sign license plate. I have no dog in the fight, but it's not obvious to me why the addresses of amateur radio licensees need to be public, even by old-fashioned paper-scrounging processes. If you're microwaving my sheep with your transmissions or something, shouldn't I go to the FCC instead of showing up at your door?

On a vaguely-related note, while driving through O-fucking-long-hi-o on I-70, I was looking at all the different radio towers, and I was thinking it would be cool to have an augmented reality iPhone app that would query the FCC database and tell me the purpose/owner of all of them. There's one neat one that's a substantial concrete structure that was used to relay TV network programming to the local affiliates before satellites.
Mar. 25th, 2011 03:50 pm (UTC)
Having just used a coworker's callsign license plate to track him down for questions about APRS, I was thinking about the privacy implications as well. I think I have to come out on the side of David Brin's Transparent Society though. One more method of locating people in the myriad of publicly available information is not really going to have an effect on people's lives. Pretty much all of us already have such things online in one form or another.

The thought is a little creepy to me as well, but on further analysis, the creep-factor is more about the involuntary nature of information disclosure. While we all like the illusion of control over our personal data that social networking sites give us, anyone that's actually read the EULAs we have to sign to use their services knows it's just that: illusion.

The question is no longer disclosure vs privacy, but who has access to the information, and what is known about them in return.
Mar. 25th, 2011 11:36 pm (UTC)
I would have to second The Transparent Society. For example, if you own property, then it's a matter of public record and usually pretty easily available online. You know that I do what I can to maintain anonymity online, but really it's ultimately a losing battle.
May. 10th, 2012 03:59 pm (UTC)
Callsigns and Privacy
I'm a ham, and I don't have a callsign license plate. I do have a callsign hat, which i only wear when I'm with other hams, like at a club meeting. I use my callsign on the air, of course. I also don't object to having my location in my profile on QRZ because only other licensed amateurs can view it, and I'd like to think most of them are trustworthy. However, I try not to advertise beyond what's legally required, since I've got a lot tied up in equipment, etc. I post very little about the hobby on FB, and absolutely no photos. I also keep a rather protective dog at my QTH, good luck sneaking in here...
( 6 comments — Leave a comment )