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Take My Identity, Please

May 28, 2006 - rant

I just can’t win. Between my employer and the Veteran’s Administration, and their penchant for storing my personal data on easily-stolen laptop computers, I might as well just post my name, birthday, and Social Security number right here on my web site and save all those thieves the trouble.

And people wonder why I am so fanatical about privacy issues. Concern over privacy 40 years ago, or even just a decade ago, might have seemed out of place. But today? If you don’t think privacy is important, amid all of the stories of identity theft, you clearly aren’t paying attention. Pardon me if I believe a little paranoia is warranted at this point.

A few years ago, after the release of the movie Catch Me If You Can, I was fortunate enough to hear Frank Abagnale speak at the University of Missouri. Abagnale was the original identity thief, in the days before there were computers or high-speed Internet connections, and after serving prison time, he became a security consultant. During the Q&A period following his speech, he was asked what the average person can do to prevent identity theft. His first suggestion: buy a shredder.

Sage advice, to be sure, however, if you can’t even get your employer or your government to recognize the value of the electronic data that they are responsible for protecting, preventing someone from sifting through your garbage is the least of your worries.

Solving this problem is not easy. Since it’s really just a symptom of a bigger problem that only a Bloody Revolution™ will fix. Despite FDR’s promises that our Social Security numbers would never be used as a form of general identification, function creep over the last 70 years has made his promise a joke. Even individuals who wish to fully exercise their right to privacy, can never take full responsibility for protecting their own personal information, as long as they are being compelled to provide these data to a government with no vested interest in keeping them secure.

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