There's a clerk
at the local grocery who has a bar code tattooed on his wrist, which I took as a sly commentary from a guy who spends much of his day sliding food items over a scanner to a mind-numbing "beep beep." I finally had to ask him: Is it real? Nope, he said. But I think I can be forgiven having a moment's hesitation about it because young people today seem to have a different sense of privacy. Facebook, MySpace, YouTube, iPhones, MacBooks...your entire life can be tracked, recorded, photographed and broadcast — and soon, scanned. What does privacy even mean in a world like that?
Not much. We worry so much about Big Brother and government surveillance, but it turns out, we private citizens are often the worst offenders when it comes to violating privacy. Take Passportgate, the growing scandal
where employees hired by the U.S. State Department peeked into the file of Barack Obama then, it turns out, also the files of Hillary Clinton and John McCain. An investigation might reveal a more insidious agenda, but at the very least they fell victim to ordinary folks who showed an "imprudent curiosity." One of the alarming aspects of the case is to learn how much government privacy is outsourced to private contractors.
Worse was the debacle at the University of California-Los Angeles Medical Center, which announced recently that it was firing at least 13 employees
for digging into Britney Spears' private medical files. Another six have been suspended and six doctors face disciplinary action for snooping into her psychiatric records. This is the second time UCLA employees have been caught doing this, and the latest incident came after an explicit, written warning to staff not to do so. The hospital is being investigated. The power of Pandora lives — or the lure of the tabloid's checkbook.
Some people also believe that it's just a matter of time before everyone in the country is chipped
, meaning that we all have a microchip implanted. It might start with immigrants or children and soon expand to a nation-wide ID system. As the deadline approaches for the federal government's Real ID system of scannable, high-security ID cards for everyone, we're almost there anyway.
One concern: How will the Department of Motor Vehicles be able to store and protect all the security data that goes along with obtaining a high-tech driver's license? Time
magazine reports that the passport breach was made easier
by the government's new obsession with security — such records can now be more widely accessed than before. Passportgate raises serious concerns, like those of Timothy Sparapani, ACLU Senior Legislative Counsel: "If you think that your passport data is vulnerable — and it is — just wait until Real ID puts all of our most sensitive data in one giant database that is ripe for the picking."
And who will be doing all that picking? Not Big Brother per se, but often private citizens just like you who can't respect personal boundaries and who view all life as simply a big reality TV-style entertainment, I suppose. Maybe we need a strong public advocate to crack down on behalf of the right to privacy. What's Eliot Spitzer up to?
UPDATE: Looks like the state of Montana has won its showdown with the Department of Homeland Security over implementation of Real ID
. Here's reaction from the ACLU:
In the strongest confirmation yet that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is caving in to state resistance on the Real ID Act, DHS today agreed not to enforce the requirements of the Real ID Act
on the state of Montana, even though the state has passed a law prohibiting implementation. To date, nearly a dozen states have received extensions without committing to comply with the act - including three states in which the legislatures have actually passed statutes barring compliance. In other cases, DHS has granted extensions despite explicit statements disclaiming any intention of complying.
"Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer bet his ranch that Real ID would never be enforced against his state," said ACLU Technology and Liberty Program Director Barry Steinhardt. "The Governor saved both his ranch and the people of Montana from a real nightmare. Montana stared down Secretary Michael Chertoff's threats and exposed the Department of Homeland Security for what it is: a paper tiger."