Who Hijacked Our Country

Friday, November 26, 2004

Privacy: Going, going...

Privacy; control over your own personal information: ah, the memories...

It’s not enough that the banking/finance industry ordered its prostitutes, er, uh, “legislators” to delete any last shred of consumer privacy.

For several years, the California legislature kept trying to pass a privacy measure for the state’s banking customers. Each year it got defeated by an avalanche of money from the banking industry. Finally, an initiative was headed for the ballot, which was even stricter than the measure that got defeated each year in the legislature. Opinion polls showed the measure would pass by a landslide. Suddenly the banking industry got all warm and fuzzy and said they wouldn’t oppose the privacy measure currently in the legislature (for the Nth time) if the stronger measure didn’t appear on the ballot.

Technically, the banking lobbyists kept their word. They didn’t fight the measure – in California. Instead they went to Washington, where they lobbied (and paid and paid) for a federal measure that would prevent any state from enacting privacy protections for bank depositors. Some of the call girls, oops, Congresspersons who voted for (and passed) this measure are the same ones who also talk about “states’ rights” out of the other side of their mouths.

So, that was one nail in the coffin for privacy rights. Another nail (and of course the Patriot Act also counts as a “nail,” maybe several) is the new electronic passports that are supposed to be ready for us at the end of 2005. Your new passport will be encoded with a microchip that contains your basic personal information: name, date of birth, office where the passport was issued, and you photo (plus God knows what else). This information can be accessed remotely (from a distance of up to 30 feet) by an agent using a scanning device.

Privacy advocates, as well as the governments of England, Canada, Holland and Germany, among others, have been trying to have this data encrypted, so that an unauthorized person won’t be able to access this personal information. This could lead to a whole new wave of identity theft, as well as general snooping by a whole army of John Ashcroft-types who would love to know all about YOU. (Hey, you don’t have anything to hide, do you? Are you guilty of something?) These electronic passports would also make it easy for terrorists to target Americans traveling overseas. (You’ve finally mastered that fake Canadian accent for your next overseas trip, and it’s all down the tubes; a little electronic gizmo will give you away.)

Predictably, the Bush administration is against this encryption of personal data.

Even worse, to give new life to all those lame tinfoil hat jokes: some people are (unofficially) suggesting that wrapping your passport in tinfoil will prevent it from being scanned and accessed. Oooookay.

Well, at least Big Brother doesn’t have a telescreen in every room – yet. Ahem, pay no attention to that potted plant over on your right. Really, it’s only…

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