Private Parts

Private Parts

Privacy is a major concern for all of us in this (Too Much) Information Age. The amount of information created by humankind on a daily basis grows exponentially with each passing year. We do more and more business online every day, from banking to insurance to paying bills to shopping for that one-of-a-kind-I’ve-just-got-to-have-it-vintage-1960s-Charlie-Brown-lunchbox that you just found on Ebay.

Even if you try not to do any business online, it’s likely that the companies you do business with do. Your name, address, Social Security Number, bank account and credit card numbers, height, weight, and all the movies you’ve rented for the past fifteen years are all part of corporate databases that are accessible from computers online. Just type in the correct username and password, and Presto! More information than you ever thought you’d need.

There are some developments in the privacy arena that bear watching by any of concerned with things like identity theft. When many of us were growing up, the concept of identity theft was more akin to the agents from Mission: Impossible who wore those rubber masks and infiltrated the evil villains. Nowadays, criminals have devised so many ways to get your sensitive information. You should be cowering under a table right now.

Seriously, the unscrupulous and unprincipled among us have invented devices that can read your credit and debit card information and that are small enough to be inserted into an existing credit or debit card reader, like those on self-service gasoline pumps. Recently, I heard of a person who pulled her already opened W-2 statement from her mailbox. She is now worried about who might have her Social Security number and her employer’s tax ID number. There are a number of security companies who claim to be able to guard a person’s numbers and accounts and prevent identity theft. This, presumably, will go a long way toward preventing the identity theft victim from having to dress as a pirate and sell fish to tourists in t-shirts.

Privacy is a major concern in the online world. Actually, there’s no such thing as privacy in the online world. Every computer has its own unique ID tag called an IP (Internet Protocol) number. Every time you go to a website or send an e-mail, your IP number is tracked by all the servers your computer encounters during its online journey. So when you see an online company’s “privacy policy,” you can be assured of at least two things: 1) As far as that particular company is concerned, you have no privacy; 2) You can only hope that they don’t share or sell your information with the spammers who are trying to sell you Viagra without a prescription.

To find out just how popular or well known you are in cyberspace, just Google yourself. (Imagine saying that to someone in the 1970s!) Even more amazing, go to Google maps and try the new Street View. It’s somewhat amazing and rather disquieting to see your own house up close and personal, knowing that the same view is available to anyone in the world with a computer and an online connection.

An article by Brian Cooper published on the Consumer Electronics Net website highlights privacy concerns raised by the invasive nature of Google’s Street View. It seems that certain Street View teams have violated people’s privacy by actually driving down clearly marked and often gated private roads and onto people’s driveways (!) in order to get photos of private residences. Many of these Street View photos showed recognizable faces and readable license plates. Several privacy violation cases are already in court, with likely dozens or hundreds more to follow. Even the U.S. Military has asked Google to remove images of bases the Street View teams have taken, stating that these are potential violations of national security. “It actually shows where all the guards are. It shows how the barriers go up and down. It shows how to get in and out of buildings,” said General Gene Renuart, commander of U.S. Northern Command, as quoted in the article.

So what’s a person to do? I’m reminded of a quote from the movie Buckaroo Banzai, where the protagonist said, “No matter where you go, well, there you are.” It’s just that now, everybody else knows you’re there, too. Although I hear that a person can really disappear the caves of the mountains of Afghanistan…

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