On my way home tonight, I listened to NPR’s Andrea Seabrook talk about “Politicians And Their Wives: What’s Fair Game?”
I recalled a political science class from the early 1980s and a professor who was examining the dignity of the office of Presidency…and how it was eroding. He related how when FDR got out of a vehicle, the media would turn their heads, examine their nails, look up at the birds, point their cameras away until he got in his chair and covered his legs. Regardless of the words, accusations, criticisms in print, the visual privacy – and dignity – was preserved.
I also recalled the (comical to me at the time) formal morning coat of the 1981 inauguration, as Reagan wanted to restore the dignity that supposedly was lost when Carter walked the parade route and had a “People’s Inauguration.”
I imagine the professor mentioned above would have been appalled at the television coverage of Reagan’s colon polyps a few years later and probably outraged at the media of today.
So what changed?
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I received my census form in the mail today. I don’t generally think twice about it – I understand why the government needs this information to allocate representation, funding, etc.
But the insert caught my eye: the Census Bureau took the time to tell me that I don’t need to worry about what they’re going to do with my personal information. It is, after all, protected by law. Here’s an excerpt from the Census Bureau website:
We depend on your cooperation and trust, and promise to protect the
confidentiality of your information. Title 13 of the U.S. Code protects the confidentiality of all your information and violating this law is a crime with severe penalties. In addition, other federal laws, including the Confidential Statistical Efficiency Act and the Privacy Act reinforce these protections.
Obviously the Census Bureau considers these assurances regarding the legal protection of privacy to be crucial to getting honest answers. I’m not surprised – the information could certainly be used to identify likely tax evasion, immigration status, even occupancy codes. It is very sensitive information in its raw, unaggregated form.
This isn’t my first census form. I’ve had the opportunity to participate in the previous two censuses. But for me, for the first time, I am not reassured by their claim.
After all, I’m pretty sure that warrant-less wiretaps are illegal too. As is torture – isn’t it? I believe the evidence is strong that our government has authorized or allowed both activities. Certainly it was necessary to pass legislation giving telecommunications companies immunity from prosecution for participating in wiretaps. I’m no legal expert but to this citizen that means that the wiretaps are acknowledged to be illegal – we just won’t do anything about it.
So, how can I have any faith that the Census Bureau would live up to it’s claims? How can anyone?
But it’s an opportunity. This is one of those “teachable moments” that a parent, or teacher would apply to an unruly child. What more natural consequence could there be for lawless behavior by the government than to say “You know what? I won’t tell you that information because I don’t trust you to act in good faith with it.” The census, as an opportunity for civil feedback, is a perfect time to teach that lesson. I only wish that it could be recognized as civil feedback instead of the apathy that it would undoubtedly be labeled as.
The United States has fiercely resisted allowing photographs of dead U.S. soldiers, allegedly because of “privacy concerns” regarding the families of the deceased. In February, 2009, the military finally lifted an 18-year old ban on taking photos of only the coffins of deceased U.S. soldiers. In October, 2009, The U.S. military banned photos of troops killed in action in Afghanistan. Amy Goodman has argued (correctly, in my opinion), that the Middle Eastern wars currently being fought by the U.S. would quickly be ended if only the public were allowed to see the devastating effects of these wars on U.S. troops and on the civilian populations.
How believable is the excuse given by the U.S. and by many members of the U.S. media for severely limiting photos of our dead soldiers? Is it really out of respect for the grieving families? Are “privacy” concerns the real the reason the media acquiesces in this policy of showing only a highly sterilized version of the ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan?
I don’t believe so. Why are the U.S. media so willing to freely discuss the horror of the Haitian deaths and to show graphic photos of Haitian people who have been severely injured or killed in the Haitian Earthquakes? And see here and here and here. There doesn’t seem to be much concern about the “privacy” of the Haitian victims and their families.
It seems that the decision to show (or not show) photos of injured and dead people has much more to do with politics than with privacy.
As this just happened, I thought I’d come right home and write about it. I just had one of those customer service incidents that sends me over the moon.
I walked into a store to find something. I was in a frame of mind to buy. I found the something and asked the sales person “How much is that?” Back at her desk, she sat down, I sat down, and I expected her to punch up the price on her computer and tell me.
Instead: “What’s you name?”
“Private individual,” I replied, a bit nonplussed.
“I need a name for the quote,” she said.
“You have to have it?”
“Have a nice day.”
And I walked out.
Now, this was perhaps petty of me. What, after all, is the big deal? She needed to punch a name into her computer to open the dialogue box to ask for the price.
Here’s the big deal: IT’S NONE OF YOUR DAMN BUSINESS WHO I AM UNTIL I DECIDE TO BUY FROM YOU!
This is a persistent and infuriating condition in our present society that causes me no end of irritation because so few people think it is a problem that I end up looking like a weirdo because I choose not to hand out private information for free.
It has crept up on us. Decades ago, when chain stores began compiling mailing lists by which they could send updates and sale notices to their client base. Then they discovered they could sell those lists to other concerns for marketing. Now we have a plague of telemarketers, junk mail, spam, and cold calls and a new social category with which to look askance at people who would prefer not to play. Like me.
In itself, it is an innocent enough thing. But it is offensive, and what offends me the most is my fellow citizens failing to see how it is offensive and how it on a deep level adds to our current crisis.
Look: if telemarketing didn’t work, no one would do it. A certain percentage of those unwanted calls actually hook somebody into buying something. Direct mail campaigns have an expected positive return rate of two percent. That is considered normal response and constitutes grounds to continue the practice. Economies of scale work that way. So if only two to five percent of the public respond favorably to the intrusions of these uninvited pests, they have reason to persist.
I think it might be fair to say that people with money and education don’t respond as readily as poorer, less educated folks who are always on the lookout for bargains—and often find bargains they don’t understand and probably end up costing them too much, like sub prime mortgages.
We are too free with our personal information. Maybe you or you or you find nothing wrong with always giving out your phone number or your zip code or even your name and address when asked, in Pavlovian response to the ringing bell behind the counter, but what has happened is that we have made available a vast pool of data that makes it easy to be imposed upon and that has aided and abetted a consumer culture that has gotten out of hand.
And made those of us who choose not to participate in this look like some form of misanthropic libertarian goofballs.
How hard is this? If I choose to buy from someone, then I have agreed to have a relationship, however tenuous, with them. Unless I pay cash, they are entitled to know with whom they are dealing. But if I’m not buying, they have no right to know who I am. And I can’t know if I’m going to buy if I don’t know how much the object in question is. Trying to establish the buying relationship in advance of MY decision to buy is…rude.
I have walked out of many stores when confronted with a request for personal information. I’ve had a few shouting matches with managers over it. In some instances, the unfortunate salesperson is as much a victim, because some software programs these days have as a necessary prerequisite for accessing the system the entry of all this data. The corporation won’t even let the employee make the call whether it’s worth irritating someone over collecting all this information.
Concerns and worries over Big Brother have a certain validity, but it is largely unremarked that the foundation of such a system will not be imposed on us—rather we will hand the powers that be what they ask for because we can’t muster up enough sense of ourselves to say, consistently, “None of your damn business!”
There. I feel better. I needed to get that out. This rant has been brought to you by Consumer Culture LTD.
What can you do if the police dig through your garbage without your permission? You get even by digging through their garbage. Willamette Weekly published this article back in 2002. Their idea was both simple and effective. Whose garbage did they investigate?: We chose District Attorney Mike Schrunk because his office is the most vocal […]