Dateline   |  March 25, 2013

Online Privacy, Part 1

NBC News' Natalie Morales investigates: how protected are our identities and personal information in our digital age? 

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>>> these days, it seems like everything in our lives is stored on a computer somewhere. you may think this information is private. but we find out surprisingly simple ways a stranger can gain access to something as private as your social security number and as personal as your children's pictures. no high-tech magic necessary. here's natalie morales .

>> have you ever done a reading before?

>> no.

>> first time. okay.

>> he's the amazing kavora.

>> the house that you're living now has a hill with a lot of trees.

>> yeah.

>> and he knows everything about this person he just met.

>> i see sometimes difficulty in keeping up with the red know.

>> i see a hot dog .

>> yes, i have a hot dog .

>> i don't want you to feel like i'm guessing.

>> amazing? yes. is he using unseen and unknown special abilities?

>> i hate them. it freaks me out.

>> far from it, his powers ant supernatural at all. in fact, he's doing something anyone can do, using digital information that could be a gold mine for identity thieves , hackers or anyone you don't want knowing your personal business .

>> the privacy is dead?

>> privacy is dead, buried, stake through its heart.

>> you got his facebook page?

>> yeah.

>> we recruited steven to show us just how dead it is. he's a private investigator who also lectures on eroding privacy in the digital age. an age where everything about everyone can be found on line.

>> bit, by bit, by bit. drip, drip, drip, it gets out there. you get one piece of information today, you get another piece of information tomorrow. before you have a chance to think about it, everything is out there.

>> and to show how easy it is to find all of that information once it's out there --

>> we're a little light on him.

>> we pulled people off the street and asked them if they'd like to be part of a dateline story and meet with someone who may have special powers.

>>> just before they arrived and during their reading, the team of investigators dug up the goods on each of them. armed with just basic information like name, age, e-mail and access public information from social media sites to online government records.

>> hunter, hunter, he has a hunting license .

>> and we sent it all to amazing gravora.

>> operations privacy is dead, as you would say.

>> here's 24-year-old brittany who we plucked from a manhattan sidewalk.

>> okay. not grape soda?

>> no, no flavored soda.

>> the amazing kavoras then got measurably more personal.

>> ask her if these numbers mean anything to her?

>> 32-24-36 --

>> wait, 32-24-36, i think that's my measurements.

>> but he really surprised her with this.

>> do you have a tattoo of a heart on your wrist?

>> yeah.

>> is it under your watch?

>> yeah. that's really weird.

>> you keep that private. just to people close to you.

>> it was time to tell brittany the amazing kavoras wasn't really psychic.

>> well, he's actually a guy named ted and he is a private investigator. come with me and i'll show you our set up in the back.

>> so how did we know so much about brittany ? well, the team had a lot to work with, including brittany 's own thousand of online tweets. that's how we knew her quirky likes and dislikes. turns out, she's an aspiring model and actress. we found her measurements hosted as long as a online image.

>> we only had about 15 minutes to background you. and in 15 minutes , we got everything. we got your mom, your dad, everywhere we lived. we got your little scary dog there.

>> and even though she aims to be in the public eye , brittany was taken back by how much we had dug up on her so quickly.

>> this kind of stuff freaks me out.

>> 99% of what we got, you put up there. and you can never get it back. it's there forever. it's your permanent record .

>> but even if you aren't oversharing on social media , your information is still out there for the taking. as our next subject, melissa discovered, the billions of pages of public records of court documents and professional licenses can yield even more than a facebook page.

>> husband is tim. contractor.

>> your spouse is timothy.

>> yes.

>> okay. and he's very handy, yeah?

>> yeah.

>> yeah, okay.

>> she had a real estate license which is not active right now. she was in real estate .

>> old real estate license .

>> and when your children were younger, you made a living dealing in real estate .

>> i did, yes.

>> okay. but what really surprised melissa about our demonstration was that we found a court record that told us something she didn didn't know herself.

>> you're wanted for escape, second-degree on your ticket. it's not a big deal . it just means you have to go and ask for one of those traffic tickets .

>> i honestly didn't know that.

>> melissa learned she had no control over the fact that her traffic tickets are on the internet. our next subject learned that something even scarier was online for the taking.

>> as hard as it is, please tell me if these numbers mean anything to you?

>> yeah.

>> what are they?

>> it's my social security number .

>> that's right. a full social security number for a man we had just met. the team used a web site for law enforcement and investigators to find it in order to illustrate the point. he says there are plenty of ways, legal and otherwise, to find a social security number on line.

>> and then once you have a social security number --

>> you own the person. everything is indexed through that social security number .

>> were you surprised by any of the information?

>> no. no. in fact, we could have gathered expone exponentially more information.

>> information is the life blood for investigators. but ronbaum says they right-hand turn the ones doing most of the collecting.

>> the biggest investigators are big marketers. it's people who want to sell you stuff.

>> marketers are gobbling up the data web sites collect on us. and whether we know it or not, we've giving them permission to do it. by clicking agree on the terms of use, you may be letting a site or app document what you do, track your location, possibly even share your info with anyone they like.

>> should we be worried about that?

>> you should be creeped out beyond belief.

>> but in a world lived increasingly online, it's becoming that much harder to keep personal information and habilitates private. and, if you think that all of those pass words you use to keep your information secure will protect you, think again.

>> that google password that i have that was broken was 19 characters long. it had letters, numbers and symbols in it.

>> and it didn't protect you?