Is privacy an endangered species? (OFF TOPIC) : LUSENET : TimeBomb 2000 (Y2000) : One Thread


Is privacy an endangered species? by Thomas Sowell --

ONE OF MY ODDEST EXPERIENCES was being pulled over by a highway patrolman who never approached my car to give me a ticket.

He stayed way back at his own car, writing so long that I joked with my passenger that he must be writing the great American novel. After a while, another car pulled up alongside him with two policemen. The mystery was deepening.

Why would it take three armed men and a dog to give a ticket to some old geezer like me? It turned out that the highway patrolman had fed my car's license number into some computer database and discovered that I was the owner of registered firearms. Hence all the backup.

This dramatized for me something that I had only read about before-- the growth of national databases, in which all kinds of information from different sources are collected for each individual. Everything from an individual's medical condition to his financial condition can be brought together in cyberspace and used by all sorts of organizations for all sorts of purposes. It is a collectivist's dream-- and the nightmare of anyone who believes in privacy.

What the Big Brother types could not achieve through their aborted efforts to require national identity cards for everyone is now being achieved behind people's backs with computer databases. Keeping tabs on everyone from the cradle to the grave was once just a hope of those with a Gestapo mentality.

Today, the reality is that data starts being collected before you are born. There are "home visitation" programs that scan the medical records of expectant mothers and begin building up a social profile of the family of the unborn, all in the name of determining if this will be an "at risk" child. And all this goes into a national database. Banks are now announcing-- or, rather, mentioning in fine print, with convoluted language-- that they will be feeding your financial records into other databases, unless you specifically object by a given date.

With all the advertising literature you get in the mail, how many people are going to read these statements? All kinds of businesses and government agencies are selling your private information to the highest bidder-- or just feeding it into national databases, where your address, your bank account, your Social Security number, your car, your guns and your records from schools, courts, and hospitals can all be brought together for those who want a profile of you.

What do you have to fear, if you have always been an upstanding citizen with a spotless record? At a minimum, you may have junk mail pouring in every day and telemarketers phoning you during dinner, once they know that you have a little money and pay your bills. Others with less benign motives can target you for other things. Besides, whose business is it if you have been treated for diabetes or breast cancer? Or if you have a little cabin off in the woods someplace? In addition to government databases, there are private databases belonging to General Motors, Kraft Foods, and Blockbuster Entertainment that include records for tens of millions of people each. Telephone giant GTE has admitted selling unlisted phone numbers to telemarketers.

If your bank merges with an insurance company, then your financial records and your medical records may automatically become part of the same database. And if your employer pays for your medical insurance, he may have access to your medical history. How far has all this coordination of information gone? Much of it is done so quietly that most people are unaware that it is being done at all. A few get a glimpse of it by accident, as I did. Some would say that it is a good thing that a policeman knows in advance who is armed and dangerous.

Yet a criminal is far less likely to have his gun recorded in a computerized database than a law-abiding citizen is. Registered gun owners are among the most peaceful people in the country. There will never be a lack of excuses for collecting private information. Everybody is against children being "at risk" for child abuse or other dangers.

But there is no hard evidence that all the snooping done by agencies that sponsor "home visits" makes any real difference. The only time the right to privacy seems to matter is when people are talking about abortion.

-- Stan Faryna (, August 02, 1999


The answer to your question is yes.

Ipso Facto.

Unless you want to go live in the Congo. It's very nice here, the crocodiles are very polite.

-- h (, August 02, 1999.

This was a battle we lost years ago when we allowed the use of our Social Security numbers as a de facto national ID number. Now its required for everything. Remember when your SS card stated "not for purpose of identification". That phrase is no longer printed on the cards. Now the courts have ruled that its okay to collect DNA on anyone convicted of any crime, and all military members must submit a DNA specimen. Its harder and harder to remain free...

-- kozak (kozak@formerusaf.guv), August 02, 1999.

I think the problem is fundamental, and not just the New World Odor.

Overpopulation. With so many people competing for scarce resources, "laws" will only increase in volume.

-- Anonymous99 (, August 02, 1999.

I was shocked on Saturday to receive a brown envelope that spoke of my auto registration and had something inside that LOOKED exactly like the sticker one puts on the license plates to update turned out that it came from Reader's Digest and was a contest to win a car. What shocked me was that they had the full details on my present car on it, as if it had come from the RMV! We no longer have any privacy, and it scares me badly. (P.S. I thought Reader's Digest had a helluva nerve too!!!)

-- Elaine Seavey (, August 02, 1999.

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