Our privacy rights are sold, stolen and stripped

By Jim Hightower

Every business with a credit card, store card, website—or even an employee who asks for your email address and phone number at checkout—is looking to peddle “data” about your shopping habits. In many states, you must submit your fingerprints to renew your driver’s license. Both public and private spaces are constantly scrutinized by ever more attentive surveillance cameras.

When asked for our social security number, many of us simply shrug our shoulders rather than shout. And if we happen to be poor, a footless kid hanging on the corner of a street or a motorist guilty of “driving in the dark”, for example, we risk being locked up and lost in a vast system of ” criminal justice” which considers itself not responsible for any right, in particular the right to privacy.

Invading our privacy has become a way of life, so when you get up and ask to be left alone, you’re likely to be seen as a quaint vestige of yesteryear, a whiner or, more likely, someone with something to hide — maybe even a terrorist! We live in a culture in which individual rights have been sold and subjugated, all for the marketing of databases and to maintain control over the unruly masses.

This is a question that has fallen off the political radar. Last I looked, the only people in Washington overly concerned about privacy were corporate check writers and their pet politicians, eager to cover the tracks of their own financial counterparties.

In the brave new culture built around the market, the corporate and government sectors have viewed private and personal information as just one commodity among many.

In 1999, Congress passed the “Financial Modernization” bill, which was drafted with the help of banking industry lobbyists and allowed banks to collect and sell what they know about you without even a courtesy call to ask for your permission. The only “protection” is that if a bank wants to share information from a credit report or loan application, they must first send you a notice with the option to say no, a so-called no-no provision. participation.

But why is it on us to back out of a deal that allows someone else to sell something that rightfully belongs to us? Before such a deal can even be considered, they should be required to get our permission in advance – to ask us to “involve” and assume “no” if they don’t hear from us. Last year, Rep. Suzan DelBene, D-Wash., introduced the Open Information and Privacy Control Act, which would do just that. This would create a much-needed national consumer privacy standard. But such bills have been introduced before, and they have all been killed by members of Congress who have taken millions from interests that profit from the sale of your private information. The current bill has just 21 co-sponsors, all Democrats, and looks likely to die in committee.

While the finance guys inflate their fortunes by telling each other what we buy, where we buy it, and on whose credit, there is another booming business in the identity market.

Driven by the dream of a citizen data bank available to government at all levels, civil servants are scrambling to try and keep tabs on us. For example, the International Association of Chiefs of Police wants DNA samples from anyone arrested for any reason (as opposed to tried and convicted), and others want to take DNA samples from all new- born.

Depositing our DNA in a government database is pretty much the ultimate in unreasonable search and seizure. DNA tracking is not just an attack on the principles enshrined in our Constitution; this has very real and frightening implications: employers could deny you a job because your genes include a tendency for certain diseases or health conditions, and insurers could use DNA-derived information to place limits on your coverage health care.

Not to be outdone, governments don’t just compile these databases to keep an eye on us unruly; they sell the data alongside enterprise vendors. One estimate is that federal, state, and local governments make tens of millions a year selling public records to spammers and other businesses.

Ah, for the simpler days of “1984”, when George Orwell imagined that all that high-tech espionage and file-gathering would be used to track down and snuff out troublemakers and dissidents in society before they threaten the system.

Populist author, speaker, and radio commentator Jim Hightower writes “The Hightower Lowdown,” a monthly newsletter chronicling the ongoing struggles of American citizens against the power of plutocratic elites. Register at HightowerLowdown.org.