Government Databases, Bad Idea

The government should not try to collect everything about everybody.

From time to time, news comes of yet another example of government hoovering up data about everyone's lives.  Citizens of almost all Western countries have gotten used to governments knowing almost everything about them; still, most people don't seem to have fully internalized just how little privacy they actually have.

It did not occur to adulterous husbands that their Ez-Pass records could be subpoenaed by their wife's lawyer, proving them to have been driving to their love shack instead of on business in California as they'd claimed.

It apparently did not cross Eliot Spitzer's lust-deranged mind that the large sums of money he was paying his prostitutes would be noted by the bank, reported to the government, and investigated.

Occasionally, the public gets nervous and demands legal protection.  Social Security numbers, in theory, are now banned from use as a visible identifier in many places, for all the good that does.

The granddaddy of all intrusive government databases is the U.S. Census.  The Constitution requires an "actual enumeration" of Americans every ten years, but from the very beginning, the government wasn't satisfied with a simple tally.  No, it's always wanted names, ages, genders, occupations, address, income, recently race, and who knows what next time around.

This data is protected, or so they claim:

It is against the law to disclose or publish any private information that identifies an individual or business such as:

  • No names
  • No addresses including GPS Coordinates
  • No Social Security Numbers
  • No telephone numbers

You can take this statement for what you will; Japanese-Americans in the 1930 and 1940 censuses trusted the census-takers, only to discover too late that when it came right down to it, the census privacy law meant exactly nothing.  The census turned its data over to the military, who rounded up people with Japanese names or who lived in Japanese neighborhoods.  That's why it's legitimate for you to plead the 5th when an official asks your name - American citizens were declared enemies and locked up merely because of their names or heritage.

We're always at risk from a rogue government or an extreme event - that's why the Founders were so adamant about including the Second Amendment which has at long last, and rightly, been declared to be an individual right.  But under more normal circumstances there should be no problem.

Nope!  The Telegraph reports:

“We have blissfully obtained records of every single citizen who gave their records to the security-illiterate UK government for the 2011 census,” a posting purportedly by LulzSec said... The posting was uploaded to the website, which has previously been used by LulzSec to publicise its attacks. It said the database will be published via The Pirate Bay, a file sharing website.

Now, the stolen data have not actually been released yet.  The British government says there's no evidence there was a theft at all, but one of the wonders of computers is that jimmy marks don't show.  Should Englishmen trust their government to a) know what they're talking about, and b) tell the truth?  Would the government even know the truth if it wanted to tell it?

There's a better way: don't collect all the data in the world "just because," making it easy for someone to steal it all at once.  That saves taxpayer dollars too.

Time for a Tea Party in England, and for ours to target some strategic budget cuts!  Government snoopery isn't just risky because of power-mad politicians, it's risky because government can't even protect military data or data about our informants in Afghanistan.

The only data they can be relied on not to release or lose are data they never get in the first place.  Everything else, including President Obama's passport data and Social Security number, is up for grabs.

So what do you do when an officious person demands data?  If you're not under oath, a bit of strategic misdirection is no crime...

Petrarch is a contributing editor for Scragged.  Read other articles by Petrarch or other articles on Bureaucracy.
Reader Comments

Makes me want to throw away my EZ Pass

June 27, 2011 10:00 AM

As far as a panoptic maximum security's much later than you think.
All should realize that the nastiest business is always covert, never openly reported and twenty years ahead of public awareness technologically.

June 27, 2011 11:30 AM

You have a good point, willy, technological possibilities have a life of their own. Remember Joe the Plumber? Some government employees looked at his data in spite of laws against. When they published information about him, he lost his job. This kind of power is irresistible to low level government apparatchiks and to high-level ones for that matter. So they will continue to collect data with which to beat us.

It may or may not be a conspiracy as someone sad. Greed and lust for power are enough for them to want to do that.

June 27, 2011 5:48 PM
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