Privacy is important to us, and it should be important for any American who does not choose to be in the spotlight. To paraphrase Ben Franklin, “Anyone that would give up a little liberty to gain a little security will deserve neither and lose both.” His quote is as timely now as it was two and one-third centuries ago. In the private sector as well as the public sector, citizens are casually relinquishing more and more information for the faux sake of safety. Information about you is your personal liberty. The more personal information you give to someone (or something) else, the more freedom you surrender. Governments and corporations are gaining uncharted ground in this tug-of-war over what personal information is necessary to relinquish and what’s icing on the cake for them. It’s like trying to find the perfect employee, and the perfect citizen.
If you want a benefit from the government, you have to comply with the requirements of the program. That often includes providing the government with certain personal information, such as Social Security numbers, birth dates, and combinations of other identifiers that no one would give to their next of kin. For instance, no one may obtain a driver’s license without providing the aforementioned information. And now, it’s getting worse. Under the guise of protecting your identity, the government (Iowa Dept. of Transportation) no longer takes your photo and allows you to leave the driver’s license renewal facility with a license or permit in hand. You are given a piece of paper and told you will receive your new driver’s license in the mail. What you may not know is that the photo they’re taking of you is not so much a photo as it is a facial recognition portrait. Serving as a protective device for your identity is a rue, a red-herring, a second-hand smokescreen. The only benefit you can receive from this service is knowing that the government “may” catch someone who has used your identifiers. The invasion of privacy now becomes diluted because the government has in its database a computerized blueprint of your face. Not even your family physician has such personal information.
Try to find employment in this current market and you’ll hand corporations more personal information than your parents know about you. Some companies conduct psychological tests on prospective employees; most firms require a pre-employment drug screen (pee in the cup); and a few have even gone as far as analyzing your handwriting to see if you might be some sort of closet crazy waiting to go berserk at your desk on a future Monday morning. If you won’t comply – don’t bother to apply.
“What have you got to hide?” “It will be kept confidential.” And “Everyone does it”, are all phrases you’ve heard before. Ironically, the same company that requires so much information from you spends thousands and thousands of dollars preventing company information from being disclosed to the public and the government.
What can we do?
We don’t fly. We drove to a conference in Washington, DC, in May of 2005. We rented a car and drove to Seattle at Thanksgiving time in 2006 to visit Stephanie’s ailing sister. One of the reasons for not flying is the intrusive and useless process of boarding a plane.
It’s physically safer to fly, we admit that. On our way to DC we traveled through the entire state of Indiana with a severe thunderstorm carrying numerous tornadoes at our back. Returning from Seattle we drove through a treacherous snow storm in the mountains in which we could barely see the road. We acknowledge that statistics the show flying to be safer than driving. However, at our discretion, we sacrifice safety for the sake of privacy.
When are we (citizens) going to demand equal rights with companies? When are we going to tell the government that we want and need much more transparency than it is willing to give? When will the day come when a private citizen feels that personal information will be just that – personal?
Fawkes-Lee & Ryan is dedicated to working toward protecting individual freedoms, with a strong emphasis on privacy. We invite you join us.
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