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10 Government Lists You’re Probably Already On

by Patrick Welsh
fact checked by Rachel Jones

We like to believe we live in an idealized version of democracy with a government that values our privacy. Well, I think it’s pretty clear by now that that’s not the case. The United States government actually runs the biggest data collection program on planet Earth, and you can bet your bippy that you’re an indexed individual. 

Some of this indexing isn’t that insidious, more like business as usual. The federal government has over 24 agencies such as the IRS, Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Social Security Administration, etc., that keep records on U.S. citizens. 

But for more clandestine endeavors, our government engages in advanced spying techniques and surveillance to keep tabs on us. This means they keep lists upon lists of notable individuals. And any one of us can land on these lists for a myriad of reasons. Of course, the U.S. government must abide by the law regarding collecting information, meaning, in many cases, they have to get a court order.

But there’s a convenient workaround.

If the government hires private contractors and doesn’t use government employees to gather information, they don’t need court orders. Pretty creative. So you might as well just accept you are on any number of government lists, some that you’re aware of and maybe a few you’re not.

Related: 10 Things You Won’t Believe Can Spy On You (But Do)

10 Terrorist Watch List

A Former FBI Agent Explains the Terrorist Watch List | Explorer

If you type certain terms into Google, you may end up on our government’s watch list. For instance, if you type in “how to make a bomb,” the possibility exists that you might be placed on a domestic terrorist watch list. Don’t be surprised. It’s Google. You kind of painted the target on your butt for that one. 

If you are known or suspected of being a terrorist, it’s probably a certainty that you have been placed on the Consolidated Terrorist Watch List of the United States government. Again, don’t be surprised (dummy).

9 Sex Offenders Registry

Shawna: A Life on the Sex Offender Registry

I’m prefacing this section by saying that if you’re caught peeing or doing the nasty in public, you’re, technically, by law, a sex offender. So you could end up on this list for hilarious reasons. Mostly, though, people are rapists, pedophiles, and sexual assaulters. 

That said, if the courts have legally found you to be a sex offender, your name will be listed on the National Sex Offender Registry in coordination with the Department of Justice. This registry lists every person designated as a sex offender in all fifty states, plus the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, Guam, and also Native American tribal lands. This information is public, and anyone can search the database.

8 The IRS

The Internal Revenue Service

Have you ever filed a tax return? If yes, then you are listed in the IRS database.

Any law enforcement agency that conducts an investigation must ask the IRS for information on your tax returns. To receive this information, they must first get a court order. However, the IRS itself uses surveillance techniques if you’ve been deemed worthy of an investigation for some reason. They even use what are called Stingrays, which can simulate or impersonate cell phone towers. When someone uses a stingray, it can grab information from any cell phone within its range, such as text messages, data downloads, and calls.

In addition, the IRS can expand on its data about you by contacting your state’s department of revenue and asking them to share their information about your income tax forms and history. For example, suppose your state has fined you at some point for not reporting your income accurately, supplying false information, or not paying your taxes. In that case, the IRS can use that information to build a profile and case against you for their own internal investigation. 

Filing online with the IRS is convenient once you have set up an online account with them. But to do this, the IRS uses the opportunity to gather more information about you for their list. When you set up an online account with them, the IRS requires that you submit the account number of your home mortgage company. Using this, they can confirm your identity and request and acquire more financial information about you regarding your payment history and other details.

However, to access your mortgage information, the IRS must use one of the major credit reporting agencies. If your mortgage company isn’t affiliated with the reporting agency the IRS uses, the IRS will ask you for your credit card number. The card number permits them to study your payment history and your purchases there instead.

Sneaky and convoluted.

7 National Gun Background Check System

Gun Background Checks: How the State Came To Decide Who Can and Cannot Buy a Firearm

Even though we don’t have a national gun registry, I find it very hard to believe that when someone has a background check done on them to purchase a gun, the buyer’s data isn’t stored somewhere. It’s a known fact the ATF (Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives) does keep some databases related to guns. Some of the data include the owner’s name and address on sales reports with specific types of firearms, especially guns the ATF suspects of having been used in a crime (or any gun reported to the ATF as being stolen).

6 Regional Passport Office (RPO)

The Bourne Supremacy (3/9) Movie CLIP – Escaping in Naples (2004) HD

If you’ve ever applied for a passport, especially if you’ve traveled internationally, you are listed in the database. You see it all the time in suspense-action movies. A traveler gets off a plane and must clear customs. The agent at the window looks at the picture in the passport and then studies the traveler’s face. The agent types into his computer and sees the traveler’s passport has been flagged. In other words, his name is on a list for whatever reason. Next, the poor guy is being led into an interrogation room.

Let’s be honest. We all get a little nervous when it’s our turn to get our passports stamped.

5 Military

National Archives: Requesting a Servicemembers Military Records

The NPRC (National Military Personal Records Center) is located in St. Louis, Missouri, and holds all service records starting with World War I to the present. The National Archives (called the archives for a reason) in Washington D.C. holds all service records from the Revolutionary War to 1912. The military is meticulous about its record-keeping.

And let’s not forget our local draft boards. Even though we have an all-volunteer military, teenage boys still have to register for the draft with their local draft board when they turn 18.

4 Department of Transportation (DOT)

How To Get Your DMV Driving Records

If you have a driver’s license, you are listed in a database. If you’ve had driver’s infractions, in other words, you’ve been pulled over and ticketed. There’s a record of it in the police department database. 

You can not escape it. Unless you “disappear” from the system. Then all they have is your last known whereabouts and car make and model. Heck, unless you do anything that requires a credit card, hooking up to city utilities, or registering your identity through the DMV, you could be living in a cabin in the woods as a survivalist for all we know.

Those databases (well, any database!) can be searched using keywords. If the police are looking for a crime suspect and have a description of the car, they can search their databases for that car’s make and/or model.

3 Social Security Administration

A Child is Coming

There’s a song by Jefferson Airplane called “A Child is Coming.” In it, our singer expresses his concern over Uncle Sam coming around asking for the kid’s name and assigning him numbers. It’s the original off-the-grid campaign—except in a super hippie way. Anyway, those numbers refer to the child’s social security number.

If you have a social security number, you are in the system, and there’s really nothing legal you can do about it. There’s a reason kids are encouraged to get a social security card. For a teenager, it’s a sort of right of passage. For the government, it’s a way to keep track of every one of us. That number we are so innocently assigned will be with us throughout our lives. It is a way for the government to monitor us when they deem there’s a logical reason to do so.

2 Credit Reporting Agencies

A Brief History of the Birth of the Federal Trade Commission

These agencies may not be government agencies, but they are overseen by the government’s FTC (Federal Trade Commission). This is the same commission that administers the Telemarketing Sales Rule, Identity Theft Act, and the Fair Credit Reporting Act. If you have a credit card, if you’ve applied for credit, taken out a student loan or a car loan, or purchased a home, you are in the system, and the government can access your records for whatever reason.

1 Banking

Banks are buying stolen credit card numbers on the dark web

If you have a checking or savings account, once again, you are in a database that lists your personal information. The government, with a court order, can access bank accounts to survey your financial activity. Quite often, however, it’s not the banks we have to blame for people accessing these databases. Security breaches can result in leaked lists on the Deep Web. These secondary lists mean people can attempt to infiltrate your accounts, hack into your social media, and attempt identity theft.

fact checked by Rachel Jones