Privacy? What Privacy?


Ring. Ring.

“Hello, this is Tom.”

“Happy birthday to you, Tom!”

“Who is this? How did you know it was my birthday?”

“Your birth date is public information – it’s listed on your voter registration card. But that’s not important. What is important is that I’m here to help you.”

“Help me?”

“We feel it’s time for you to upgrade your computer, Tom. It’s taking you forever to surf through the Web sites you visit.”

“You know which Web sites I visit?”

“Of course. Not long ago, America Online got into trouble for releasing such information. We had a good laugh when we learned your favorite search terms are: Madonna, bikini, before she turned 40.”

“This, sir, is an outrage.”

“We’re just trying to help. Incidentally, that 27-year-old flight attendant you met in the online chat room?”

“What of her?”

“She’s 64 and married.”

“You have no right to -”

“Don’t get excited, Tom. According to the free blood pressure clinic you visited – you remember filling out that card, don’t you? – your blood pressure is awfully high.”

“You know my blood pressure?”

“Of course. There are lots of ways to get that information now. Didn’t you know that security cameras and other devices mounted in public places are now able to check vital signs?”

“My vital signs!”

“Absolutely. Some surveillance systems can identify you by how you walk. And special programs can track your eye movements. Retailers use them to get a better idea of what shoppers are looking for.”

“You can’t be serious.”

“As serious as a heart attack, Tom. Which is why you ought to cut back on the corn chips. Do you really need to eat three bags a week?”

“You track my corn chip purchases?”

“That discount card the grocery store gave you is quite revealing. Incidentally, you forgot to redeem your coupon on the free devil’s food cake. I’ll send another if you’d like.”

“What you’re doing is surely against the law!”

“Law? There are no laws to prevent us from knowing about you. Everything you buy with your credit or debit card is incredibly easy for us to track – and most of the things we do to track you are legal.”

“They are?”

“Yes, and every time you fill out any form, your personal information is stored in computers and shared with goodness only knows who.”

“Without my permission?”

“Of course. And did you know that your Social Security number has more than 40 congressionally approved uses? You can’t drive, vote, apply for a job or open a bank account without revealing that number. That’s a godsend to people like us.”

“But this is immoral!”

“A typical statement from a 50-year-old, single, middle-class Catholic conservative who tends to vote Republican.”

“Have you no shame, sir?”

“I’m not the one who is 12 months overdue at the library on ‘How to Win Over Women and Influence Courtship.'”

“I’ll report you to the press.”

“That’s a good one, Tom. The press is eager to criticize the government for monitoring phone calls and wire transfers, when there are hundreds of other threats to privacy that the press hardly ever talks about.”

“Then Congress must write new laws to protect us.”

“That’s an even better one, Tom. In the electronic global village in which we all now exist, technology is moving so rapidly that no law can keep up with it. The only way you can protect your privacy is to stop giving out ID numbers, stop using computers and stop using your credit cards.”

“I can’t afford that kind of inconvenience.”

“Neither can I, Tom. Which brings us back to the reason I called. I have some products to help you upgrade your computer.”

“There are only two things I want from you: your name and phone number.”

“Sorry, but I can’t give you that information. That information is private.”

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