My address is not yours

A new California law offers hope for universal address privacy

“What’s your home address?”

…the cashier asks me.

“Why do you need that?”

“Our system just asks for it.”

For a minute, I wonder how much I want to explain why I never give out my address, even to my family and friends. Why my best friend has to pick me up a few buildings down and why my family ships packages to a PO box. I consider launching into my monologue about how crazy I think it is that retail stores are asking for people’s home addresses….

…but instead, I just say, “I don’t give out my address to anyone. Not even my mom.”

Address protection is largely overlooked. Think about all the people who have the exact location of your home — your cable company, your employer, your clients, the DMV (and anyone with a scan of your license), your friends and family, your electrician, your plumber, the pizza place, the florist, newspapers, magazines, Apple, Google, Amazon. The list goes on and on.

How many times have you shipped something to your house this week?

How many companies have they given or sold your address to?

I am all too aware of the gravity of giving out my address. For about four years, I’ve been dealing with a stalker who had my home and work address. I had to move to another city. When I finally got (an expensive) restraining order, the court directly mailed him documents showing the location of my new job and my salary along with my tax returns. Don’t even get me started on how insane and ineffective the restraining order process is.

Thankfully, the state of California has a program to provide a layer of address protection. It’s called Safe at Home and it is crucial for the safety of domestic violence, sexual assault and stalking victims. Safe at Home provides a PO box in Sacramento that I can route all my mail through. Through this program, I can have this PO box on my driver’s license, I can use it for official government documents and I can vote confidentially (because, as you may know, your address can easily be made public through voting records). I’m beyond grateful for Safe at Home.

However, it still requires that you be your own advocate. It means you must have confidence and patience. It requires that you explain to other people and entities the importance of not revealing your location. Occasionally, I have to give someone my physical location. When I have furniture delivered, I write a letter in advance asking that they remove my address from the order afterwards and not ship catalogs or mail to it. Whenever I open a financial account, I have to provide a letter from the Secretary of State which explains the way my address works. To vote, I have to have a special ballot prepared, drive 35 miles away and locate a specific liaison in the county registrar’s building. When I give my address to friends, I have to ask them not to store or sync it to Google or Apple.

Recently, I went into a mailbox store to set up a new PO box because I had moved. The guy who owned the store asked for my license and for my home address. When I gave him the letter from the Secretary of State along with my Safe at Home ID, he refused to open a PO box for me. I went a few blocks away to a place I knew was run by women. They didn’t even blink at the letter. PO box opened. Privacy maintained.

It’s painful and exhausting but what I don’t understand is why I have to opt out of this? I never opted in to having my address shared publicly. Why are we freely giving away our safety and privacy? Why is it legal for companies to sell, abuse and expose our addresses?

On January 1, a new law, authored by Catharine Baker, takes effect in California that aims to further protect the addresses of victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, stalking and those who provide reproductive healthcare. The law prohibits people and businesses from publicizing addresses for these individuals. I’m glad I live in a state that acknowledges that address privacy is a public safety concern. But it’s just one step.

It will still require that we be our own advocates. It will require that we ask every party we interact with to hold our address in confidence. It will demand more forms and more time and most of all, empathy. It will be dependent on companies like Spokeo and ceasing to treat addresses like currency and enabling stalking.

This new law is hopeful but it’s just a start. I want to see home addresses treated with the level of care that they warrant. I want to see a system like Safe at Home that exists for everyone. Even if you’ve never worried about someone coming after you, you deserve to not have your information published without your permission. Everyone deserves a confidential PO box. Everyone deserves the right to refuse to give their home address. Everyone deserves to know their address is theirs and that it is not for sale.

Everyone deserves to feel safe in their own homes.

Resources for California Residents

To sign up for Safe at Home:

To register as a confidential voter, call the Secretary of State’s voter hotline at 1-800-345-8683 or call Safe at Home at 1-877-322–5227.

If you are a business who needs home addresses, read about how Safe at Home works:

More on the new CA law (Assembly Bill № 2263), authored by Catharine Baker: