big_brother.jpg(A Populist Capitalist Civil Liberties Blog) 

George Orwell was right about the growth of totalitarianism and the love of government for surveillance and intrusion into the private lives of citizens. He was just a bit early in his forecast.

What is collected is used, sooner or later. ANY data that are collected in this digital age will be used and used for intentions often far from the original, often relatively benign purpose that was used to justify the collection.

Case in point: The positive steroid test result on Alex Rodriguez, the New York Yankees third baseman, that recently became public was originally collected in 2003 in an allegedly anonymous survey where only the final, totaled results where supposed to be used, and participants were considered to be protected. Well, we know how good that promise of privacy and protection was!

You may feel no pity for A-Rod, perhaps even a bit of self-righteous schadenfreude. But pause for a moment and think about the amount of data that now exists. Your cell phone records reveal every place you have been, every geographic location you make or take a call from is recorded. Who you talk to and the length of time you talk. Your relationship network is an open book, the frequency and length of calls reveal the rise and fall of your friendships. The automated toll both that reads your electronic pass in your car keeps track of your comings and goings and the new-fangled red light cameras do the same. Your credit card bills show your lifestyle and spending habits as well as your location every time you make a purchase, plus they detail your vacation and travel plans. Your Internet provider knows your every late-night surfing whim, your every personal inquiry, medical or otherwise, every friend you have ever searched for, every curiosity you have perused, the full contents of every email you have ever written, including gossip about intimates and whether they were written in careless anger, bitting scarcasm, or calm repose.

And we have not even mentioned digitizing medical records or the amount of personal information we thoughtlessly impart to Myspace, Facebook, or Linkedin (see article below, “Facebook’s Users Ask Who Owns Information”). Plus there are government databases, such as the IRS, that are all too easily hacked. And unlike old-fashioned written records, electronic databases are 1. easily searchable and 2. extremely easy to share/distribute.

The ability to determine one’s identity, to define and control the boundaries of one’s personal space, the right of privacy, is a fundamental aspect of personal freedom. It is also a rapidly-eroding freedom.

Closing Quotes (Lots!)

“Persecuted groups and sects from time to time throughout history have been able to criticize the oppressive practices and laws either anonymously or not at all… It is plain that anonymity has sometimes been assumed for the most constructive purposes.”
 — Justice Hugo L. Black (1886-1971), fourth longest serving Supreme Court Justice in U.S. history

“Ways may someday be developed by which the government, without removing papers from secret drawers, can reproduce them in court, and by which it will be enabled to expose to a jury the most intimate occurrences of the home…the right to be let alone——the most comprehensive of rights and the right most valued by civilized men.”
 — Justice Louis D. Brandeis (1856-1941), one of the most influential and respected Supreme Court Justices in United States history.

“Big Brother in the form of an increasingly powerful government and in an increasingly powerful private sector will pile the records high with reasons why privacy should give way to national security, to law and order, to efficiency of operation, to scientific advancement and the like.”
 — Justice William O. Douglas (1898-1980), the longest-serving justice in the history of the Supreme Court with a term lasting 36 years and 209 days.

“Every man should know that his conversations, his correspondence, and his personal life are private.”
 — Lyndon B. Johnson (1908-1973), 36th President of the United States, most renowned for passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which outlawed most forms of segreation.

“If you say to people that they, as a matter of fact, can’t protect their conversations, in particular their political conversations, I think you take a long step toward making a transition from a free society to a totalitarian society.”
  — Bailey Whitfield “Whit” Diffie, U.S. cryptographer, one of the pioneers of public-key cryptography.

“A man must keep a little back shop where he can be himself without reserve. In solitude alone can he know true freedom.”
 — Michel De Montaigne (1533-1592), an influential writer of the French Renaissance.

“The privacy and dignity of our citizens [are] being whittled away by sometimes imperceptible steps. Taken individually, each step may be of little consequence. But when viewed as a whole, there begins to emerge a society quite unlike any we have seen——a society in which government may intrude into the secret regions of a [person’s] life.”
 — Justice William O. Douglas

“Ask the American public if they want an FBI wiretap and they’ll say, ‘No.’ If you ask them do they want a feature on their phone that helps the FBI find their missing child they’ll say, ‘Yes.’”
 — Louis J. Freeh, tenth Director of the FBI (1993-2001).

“It was terribly dangerous to let your thoughts wander when you were in any public place or within range of a telescreen. The smallest thing could give you away. A nervous tic, an unconscious look of anxiety, a habit of muttering to yourself——anything that carried with it the suggestion of abnormality, of having something to hide. In any case, to wear an improper expression on your face…was itself a punishable offense. There was even a word for it in Newspeak: facecrime…”
 — Eric Arthur Blair, aka George Orwell (1903-1950), English author with a profound consciousness of social injustice and an intense dislike of totalitarianism. Most famous works: “Animal Farm” (1945) and “Nineteen Eighty-Four” (1949).

Articles from The New York Times 


Facebook’s Users Ask Who Owns Information
Published: February 16, 2009
The New York Times


As Data Collecting Grows, Privacy Erodes
Published: February 15, 2009
The New York Times