The World Knows You

well, at least they can

Janet Kuypers

    Hearing about people’s rights infringements. And hearing both sides of this debate has left me stuck. I don’t know what to hold my allegiance to, and I don’t know what to feel safe around. But more importantly, I don’t know if I have a choice.
    This all started when we all started hearing on the news about President Bush allowing the NSA to allow wire tapping on phone calls within the United States. I thought, “This can’t be right, we’re supposed to have constitutional rights here, isn’t this an illegal privacy issue?” But after searching, all I could see in our constitution was that we were protected against “unlawful search and seizure”... which I would hope means that it unlawful to search through phone calls, letters or e-mails.
    My husband cleared up a few things for me. One was that it is unlawful to open someone’s letter in the United States (you know, if someone is addressed to someone, it should only be opened by that someone). But phone calls which are international (our rights don’t apply outside this country, so if we make an international phone call, we better not expect to be able to fall back on our U.S. protections), and emails don’t apply at all to any privacy protections. Why? Because it’s not in a sealed envelope (like, if you write something on an envelope that’s privately mailed to someone, like an address, anyone can read what you wrote), but more importantly, it is sent electronically to the recipient’s address. And that doesn’t mean that an email teleports — decomposes, then recomposes — to arrive in someone else’s e-mailbox, it means that your letter (with all of the coding of it’s mailing dat and what computer it came from) goes to the main computer system that says it will e-mail it for you, then it is brought to a local center for distribution, then it goes to someone else’s local network, then it is brought to the specific system the recipient;s computer is on, then it goes to the e-mailbox of the recipient. And at any point there, anyone can read the electronic file (you know, because it’s not in a sealed envelope).
    Hmm. I never thought about that with emails. I always knew there was an electronic record of where emails went, but I didn’t think that meant it was fair game to read the letter at any point.
    But the NSA said they were watching all international emails, when then made me think of my emails to my friend Jim in China. Were they reading about my plans to visit him?
    Well, I was told they were only interested in looking for key words in emails, so as long I didn’t use the words bomb or weapon along with the President’s name or the government, I should feel safe.
    Ah yes, the rights we give up for we feel safe.
    But the thing is, I, and a lot of other people, have communications with people internationally (cc&d magazine has received submissions from all over the U.S. and Canada, England, Australia, Belgium, India, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Malta, Norway, Pakistan, Russia and Turkey, as well as got input from places in Japan and Slovenia via email), so even when we hear that our government is only looks of Al Qaeda activity, it doesn’t make us feel much better. And people complain about wanting to impeach President Bush for this, but my husband pointed out to me that right after 9/11, Bush was granted power to do anything to protect this country, and that could mean that would give him the right to wire tap or intercept emails or phone calls, if they thought it was in the countries best interest to keep America safe. You see, right after 9/11, everyone was in such a panic about what to do to protect our country, that they agreed to anything, allowing the President to do anything, all in the name of security against these terrorist attacks.
    But I’ve also heard that there are laws that allow the president to do these things — and that they have been on the books for probably 20 years, and a number of presidents have used that law to do what W is doing now — from Carter through Clinton. So if he’s had the right to do this all along, people should either be (1) finding another reason to impeach Bush (if they’re Hell-bent on it), or (2) look into the fact that these laws have existed infringing on our rights for so long, and try to attack a different enemy.
    So I’ve heard people complain about Bush for these things, and I’ve heard very valid arguments supporting Bush. What should I believe?
    All I’ve been able to believe is that our right to privacy has been infringed. Don’t know what I mean? Then I’ll ask: do you use the Internet much? Because, for example, I sometimes buy books at, and when I go to their home page, they see what I’ve purchased and searched for in the past and create a home page listing what books I might like to buy. Now, I know they’re trying to sell me stuff, but this means they’ve been collecting data on what I look for and what I’ve purchased to make choices for me. Doesn’t seem too scary, seems kids of convenient, if you walked into a store someone would do these same things for you, but on the Internet this means that a really big company (in this case, has keep a record of what I look for, where I’ve gone and what I do.
    Again, this doesn’t seem to ominous, it’s still kind of convenient, but the government has also been trying to get this information from big companies, so they can have a better record of what you’re interested in and what you do.
    Now, I know the government can keep records of what books you take out of the library (maybe they’ll think I’m a Nazi sympathizer because I took Mein Kampf out of the library once...), but if the government makes these agreements with companies, that means they can even know what I’m thinking about (as if my editorials weren’t enough).
    This applies to all U.S. citizens — and even if Google doesn’t want to sell this information to the government, that means the information about you is still out there, in someone else’s possession.
    Wow, I’m starting to sound like a conspiracy theorist, and I swear, that’s not where I’m coming from. It’s not something we can really change (like companies keeping on line information about us, if we’ve already used these companies), though if we were genuinely concerned about these things, we could change the way we interact with companies like this (or choose to not interact with them at all). And wow, I’m not trying to tell anyone to stop using companies, I’m just asking people to think about every step they take with monolith companies and service providers like, or even AOL or Google.
    The point from all of this is to think that you’re not safe when on the Internet. Consider the published book “No Place To Hide,” which points out that any place you go can lead to you losing your privacy — from security cameras at most every public place to WIFI at computer stations and cell phones located anywhere. ATM machines are everywhere, and you can use your credit card in a ton of places, and all of these things are ways you can be tracked. And you know, there are even expensive cars that have satellite control that allows them to locate their driver when they leave their car anywhere (any GPS system like that can be purchased now). Hell, I mentioned call phones — new cell phones now can even transmit their location every few seconds to a mobile network. Yes, they can find you anywhere.
    Ah, the great feeling of being watched, wherever you go.
    From reading “No Place To Hide,” I learned that a Richard Smith was a former computer programmer, and this Internet specialist actually found code in Microsoft Word (which, instead of MS Word, I still call Multiple Sclerosis Word) that showed who had handles the program files.. Which means there are so many ways we can be monitored, with all of the different forms of data we go through in our lives.
    But speaking of Smith, he even found in New York sensors everywhere that absorbed information about anyone there, and sending it to databases (public and private) to... to what? To keep tabs on everyone?
    And if you wanted to get away, don’t think of using any toll roads, because not only would you either have to interact with a person at a toll booth, which may have a camera watching them, or you would use an E-ZPASS, or an I-Pass, which you pay for in advance, and yes, electronically monitors where you go and when you pay to get through that booth. Hey, want to get out fast? Don’t automatically pay for gas with things like the speedpass, but don’t use it if you don’t want a record of where you’ve been or what you’ve done.
    Okay, don’t shop or use a credit card. But when you use the Internet, companies record where you go on the web. If you use a TiVo machine with your TV, it records what shows you watch. At a lot of offices, you need an ID strip, so they can monitor where you are when too. And hey, even every 800 number you call — they record anything about you, your name, phone number, your voice, and key words you use.
    If you're feeling claustrophobic yet, go ahead and look over your shoulder.
    But some of these things are a convenience, and we’ve been willing to accept them to make our lives better (like paying for gas or tolls quickly, or taking less time at checkout because they can scan a bar code which tells them everything they would otherwise have to type in slowly by hand). And employers have the right to know when their employees get in and out of work (I mean, they’re paying them), but there a places that have students needing to use ID tags for monitoring while in school. Well, that might be good if they’re in such a violent high school that people are only worried about their safety, but ... at what point is this electronic convenience so imposing that you want to just cover your house in tin foil and duct tape so no radio or electronic signals can track you sown?
    As Robert O’Harrow, Jr. said about everything being tracked and recorded so there’s a record of everyone in “No Place To Hide,” there apparently are “intelligence officials who believe that some form of Total Information Awareness will make us safer.” But when marketers lead the way in encoding everything about us, do we feel any safer?


    I don’t know if you feel safer or not, but after hearing all about how the government can have info on you, and how companies can get info one you, you have to decide where to draw the line. Yeah, you could decide that you want to cut off all electronic communication, but if you go out in public, you’d have to stop worrying about the possibility of your image being recorded. We live in a world where one some levels we have to be willing to give up some privacy if we want to function with the modern world. And, well, you can guess my take on the situation, if I’m willing to post my editorials in a magazine and have all of my writings and art posted in the Internet, but think of it this way:
    You can live in this world and enjoy companies knowing on the Internet what kinds of books or CDs you like to shop for, but these same companies can keep track of your credit cards and your purchasing history. That might allow you to fall into unintentional purchasing traps, or it might even make identify theft easier. (And trust me, I understand identity theft. In the same month Internet shoppers took my Visa card number and Discover card number that I have used on the Internet to make thousands of dollars in false purchases. And if you want to know which credit card company revoked those false charges faster, it was Discover — everything was cleared within two weeks. I didn’t use that Visa card for months to a year because their research department put my account in financial limbo.)
    The point? Watch your step, because I’m not a conspiracy theorist, but when we make these steps in the technology world, we might have to start looking over our shoulders to make sure people aren’t tracking too many of our moves.



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