WASHINGTON -- Your right to privacy has been stripped away. You cannot walk
into your bank, or apply for a job, or access your personal computer, without undergoing the scrutiny of strangers. You
cannot use a credit card to buy clothes to cover your body without baring your soul. Big Brother is
watching as never before.
Encouraged by an act of Congress, Texas and California now demand
thumbprints of applicants for drivers' licenses -- treating all drivers as
Using a phony excuse about airplane security, airlines now demand
identification like those licenses to make sure passengers don't exchange
tickets to beat the company's rate-cutting promotions.
In the much-applauded pursuit of deadbeat dads, the Feds now demand that
all employers inform the government of every new hire, thereby building a
data base of who is working for whom that would be the envy of the
Although it makes it easier to zip through tolls at bridges and highways,
electric eyes reading license plates help snoopers everywhere follow the
movements of each driver and passenger.
Hooked on easy borrowing, consumers turn to plastic for their purchases,
making records and sending electronic signals to telemarketers who track
them down at home.
Stimulated by this demographic zeroing-in, Internet predators monitor your
browsing, detect your interests, measure your purchases and even observe
your expressed ideas.
Nor are Big Brothers limited to government and commerce. Your friends and
neighbors, the Nosy Parkers, secretly tape regular calls you make to them,
and listen in to cellular calls to third parties, enhancing the video surveillance of public streets by government and private driveways by
Fear of crime and terrorism has caused us to let down our guard against
excessive intrusion into the lives of the law-abiding. The ease of minor
borrowing and the transformation of shopping into recreation has addicted
us to credit cards. Taken together, the fear and the ease make a map of our
lives available to cops, crazies and con men alike.
(Here comes the "to-be-sure" graph.) Crime is real; some court-ordered taps
of Mafiosi and surveillance cameras of high-violence playgrounds are justifiable. So are random drug and alcohol tests of
nuclear-response teams. The S.E.C. should monitor insider stock trades, and no sensible
passenger minds the frisking for bombs at airports.
But doesn't this creeping confluence of government snooping, commercial
tracking and cultural tolerance of eavesdropping threaten each individual
American's personal freedom? And isn't it time to reverse that terrible
trend toward national nakedness before it replaces privacy as an American
Here's how to snatch your identity back from the intruders:
1. Sign as little as possible. Warranty postcards are for suckers (your
sales receipt is your guarantee), and sweepstakes are devices to show your
gullibility to purchasers of your address. Throw away all mail with Ed
McMahon's name on it. (I just chucked a document assuring me of being a
winner of $10 million. Easy go.)
2. Write your local legislator demanding that a Privacy Impact Statement be
required before passage of any new law, and call on your local U.S. President to convoke a White House Conference on Privacy,
thereby demonstrating the sleeper issue's nonpartisan political clout.
3. Use snail mail, harder to intercept than E-mail. And resist mightily
requests for your Social Security number. If you're a lawyer, take the
state to court over drivers' fingerprinting. When a telemarketer calls,
shout an imprecation and hang up. Get your kids to show you how to "disable
a cookie" and download free software that lets you surf the Web in anonymity.
4. Persuade a foundation to issue a quarterly "Intrusion Index," measuring
with scholarly authority the degree to which your privacy is being violated
by pols, polls and peepers.
Above all -- 5. Pay cash. Costs less than borrowing and keeps you in
control of your own records.
Remember: Cash is the enemy of the intruders. Use it to buy back your