Sunday, June 9, 2013

Privacy. I Feel So Violated. Wah. Wah. Wah

Gail Collins is irate. The Tea Party is irate--always. Democrats are irate. Republicans, well, they are the Tea Party, so I repeat himself. Everyone is just as indignant as they can be over the government "snooping" into their private lives.

What will come next:  Some Orwellian  monitor screen in your bedroom a la 1984? Well, actually, it is already there: It's called a computer with Skype  or a smart phone, and it wasn't the government who put it there.

What is this thing called "Privacy" anyway?  

I consider my paycheck "private," but the IRS gets every last detail of that and more.  So does a bank, if I want a loan, or an auto dealership, if I am not going to pay cash. If I earn some outside income, the government must be told, and that is not new.

I have a driver's license,  and to get that my Social Security number and all sorts of things about me got taken in. And my picture got taken and stored in some government database.

I do not want my "private" bank account number to be published, and I want to keep my credit card numbers from public exposure, but every time I eat out in a restaurant or shop at the grocery store waiters and clerks handle this information. 

My friends  all have Face Book accounts, through which they publish astonishingly personal things to the world, pictures of themselves in wet swim suits, guzzling beer, and they "friend" people on the basis of having mutual friends. The woman on the train, three seats away, jabbers from Boston to New York City about where she had dinner, who she is sleeping with, who her mother is sleeping with, where her boyfriend is taking her on vacation, what she plans to eat for dinner, what her favorite color is. I wish that woman valued privacy more. I wish most people who talk on cell phones cared one tenth as much about privacy as the Attorney General Holder does, if he cares at all.

It strikes me this is an exhibitionist age, full of people trying to make connections.  Complaining about government looking at you through your phone bills is just one step beyond the woman at the nude beach complaining about men staring at her.

If you want to keep a communication "private,"  write a letter.  You don't even have to hand deliver it--the government never has opened mail--except during war time, when soldiers wrote home and their mail was censored on the basis of "security." Loose lips sink ships.

As Yosarian said in Catch-22,  it was pretty depressing having to read the letters from GI's to the folks back home so he could censor them,  because it made him realize what inconsequential things they talked about and how their lives were just as boring as the lives of officers.  (Eventually, Yosarian blacked out everything in the letters but "Dear Mom and Dad" and "Yours truly.") 

 But nobody today is talking about the government changing the content of phone calls or emails, although, now that I think of it, this may hold great potential for improving the national discourse. If we could at least correct some of the grammar, never mind the spelling in the case of emails and texts or the content, in the case of phone calls.)

As any addict of The Wire knows, listening in on telephone conversations can be of great value in criminal investigations, even when criminal organizations are very disciplined and cautious when talking on phones. 

For the most part, police and government types are simply bored by what they hear on telephone calls.

This is where I hope Mr. Obama takes us:  Let the NSA intercept all emails and cell phones and Facebook postings--which would eliminate all complaints about "profiling"--and put government workers to work improving the content of these things. Let's begin by eliminating photos of people floating in swimming pools holding cocktails and wearing sunglasses.

Let us move in the direction of enhancing privacy by refusing to allow citizens to indulge their exhibitionist tendencies.  


  1. Mad Dog,
    What-you don't look forward to friends' hourly updates on how their day is going, replete with inspirational quotes and photos of the salad they had for lunch?? Oh you're no fun Mad Dog-that's fascinating stuff....

    As for the government collecting our phone records it does seem like much ado about almost nothing for most of us. I agree that the people who already have access to our information could wreak far more havoc on our lives than the government collecting data on who we call -in most instances. On the other hand, I can see why some individuals, including journalists with secret sources, would take exception to this practice...

  2. Maud,

    If there were journalists left, Mad Dog would agree with you.
    Actually, the NY Times may have a few of these on-the-verge-of-extinction species extant.
    What is it? There are two types of reporters: Those who dig for the truth and those who bury it? Mad Dog is not sure there are many of the former left.

    Mad Dog