Voices: There is no privacy: Get over it!
By Carol Mizrahi
Before my recent appointment at a local medical clinic, I was given a form to complete. More of the same, I thought, putting my pencil to paper. But halfway down the list of questions, I edited my thinking. This questionnaire was definitely not "more of the same." This one had gone where no others had gone before. "How many sexual partners have you had?" I was asked.
I have to admit that even at my advanced age (yet determined to continue advancing) I was taken by surprise. But I shouldn't have been. The year before I called the same clinic to ask why I was billed for an annual visit. After a minute or two, the accounts receivable clerk informed me that part of my conversation with the doctor fell outside the description of "annual visit." "How would you know what we talked about?" I asked. "It's all down here in the record, " she answered. "Word for word."
The days of privacy between doctors and patients are gone, and so-called "guarantees" by government, hospitals, clinics, doctors' offices, etc., that medical records are confidential aren't worth the paper they weren't written on. Anyone who wants "in," gets in.
On a larger scale, the Blue Cross Blue Shield network was hacked into in 2010. Three thousand individual patient records were compromised. In 2012, some 4,000 records were stolen from the University of Michigan Health System's records, but those events are child's play compared to the millions of medical records now available for purchase on the black market side of the Internet — where they sell for as little as $20 to $30 per case. The "safekeeping" of our medical records has produced a treasure trove of personal data for use and misuse by government, business and individuals.
And that's just the beginning of the commercialization of our privacy.
In 2012, President Obama signed into law a bill authorizing the use of domestic drones by law enforcement agencies. These modern day supermen will some day be used to pursue illegal aliens, apprehend criminals, protect our borders, track lost hikers and more. That's the good news. It will also be able to pinpoint the whereabouts of errant husbands and wives, track you skinny-dipping in your backyard pool, and watch you withdrawing money at an ATM. When technology came through the door, privacy went out the window.
And now we know that under NSA's PRISM program, all Americans have been under surveillance for the past seven years. Our every keystroke, phone call, email, text message, video chat and Internet search has become part of the government's metadata collection. To this end, the meaning of "relevant" has been broadened (to the point of irrelevant) so that "patterns of suspicious behavior between individuals and known terrorists can be found."
This mass surveillance of millions of Americans is considered by many to be a violation of the Fourth Amendment, which guarantees us the right to privacy and protection from government overreach. Is it a violation?
President Obama insists that data mining is only a "modest encroachment on (our) privacy" because content may not be read or heard without first procuring a warrant from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC), which will not issue a warrant without evidence of a link between the object of the warrant and known terrorists. That sounds reassuring until you learn that 34,000 warrants have been requested during the court's 30-year history, and only 11 were denied. Sounds like rubberstamping to me.
There are other problems with the FISC: it only hears arguments from government attorneys and agents; its meetings are closed; rulings cannot be appealed or reviewed; and it has in the past refused requests for documents under the Freedom of Information Act. The FISC is, essentially, a secret court, possibly too political, too biased, and too easily compromised to be trusted.
So how did all this super-surveillance of millions of Americans come to be? How did "relevant" and "modest" come to mean "everything?" The answer is: Sept. 11. There is no argument among rational people that we are living in a dangerous world and want our government to protect us. So why all the fuss? Isn't it a bit disingenuous of us when you consider that we have already (and voluntarily) deposited 97 billion pieces of personal information into the data cesspool about ourselves, all in the name of convenience and fun?
Sure we have. Remember that search you did on Amazon for a new face cream and were subsequently inundated with banner and pop-up ads on your computer, text messages on your cell, marketers on your landline, and coupons in your mailbox — all pitching the Fountain of Youth?
And didn't you voluntarily join Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, where you spilled your guts and now find that your guts have been spread across the world? The world now knows more about you than your mother ever did so what right do you have to complain about the Government's megadata mining?
Every right in the world!
Last I heard we were still a democracy, and in a democracy you don't take without asking. What we voluntarily give away (even stupidly) is one thing. What the government takes from us without our permission, is quite another. It's our right to decide (through our congressmen) the quantitative and qualitative limits of the government's reach into our lives, and how much privacy are we willing to sacrifice in exchange for promises of national security. After all, what good is all the privacy in the world if terrorists who have the inclination and wherewithal to blow our heads off are free to do so? And what kind of life would it be (even in the name of keeping our heads on our necks) if we lose our civil liberties in the process?
We also have the right to know what planned terrorist attacks have been thwarted, thanks to PRISM's metadata collection. We already know that NSA and other intelligence agencies were unable to prevent the Fort Hood and Boston Marathon massacres, but what we'll never know is if better use of human intelligence (information from Ft. Hood personnel ... warnings from the Russian government regarding the Tsarnaev brothers) might not have stopped these blood baths without invading one's privacy.
And, finally, we have the right to insist that all government intelligence programs be subject to impartial, nongovernmental oversight and that these watchdogs report back to the public. We expect the transparency in government we were promised by President Obama.
I heard my name called. Time to see the doctor, and I still hadn't answered the question: "How many sexual partners have you had?"
"23,456," I wrote.
Carol Mizrahi is the author of the blog "The Bottom Whine" (thebottomwhine.blogspot.com) and "Coming of Age ... AGAIN," a novel. She lives in Champaign.