So, do the news media and the Democrats (are they even separate entities?) have you terrified about losing your privacy to the evil Bush/Cheney/Rumsfeld Axis of Evil yet? After all, a recent USA Today story contained the revelation that the NSA was obtaining phone records from several telecom companies. Does that knowledge make you long for the good old pre-Bush days, when your personal information was private? If so, I have some news for you. The era you long for is further back in history than you may think.
As someone who has spent a chunk of his professional life working as an investigator -- an occupation that is devoted to the gathering of information -- I can tell you for a fact that you don't have as much privacy as you thought you did. In their eternal quest for the almighty dollar, private companies may have surpassed the government in gathering information on you. Let's take a look at a few of them. First, here are some of the better-known commercial databases:
Mortgage and Real Estate Tax Info
- The property you own
- The address of the property
- Square footage of the property
- Square footage of building(s) on the property
- Number of rooms
- Who you purchased it from/who purchased it from you
- How much was paid for it
- Lien holder on the property
Voter Registration Info
- Your name
- Your address
- Party affiliation
- Which of the last few elections you've voted in
- Every bankruptcy you have filed for
- The court it was filed in
- The current status of the bankruptcy
Court Cases -- Decisions and Settlements
Ever filed a lawsuit or an appeal? Ever been sued? It's all here. Many of the decisions listed carry background info about the case and reference the evidence put presented.
Motor Vehicle Registrations
- Car, boat, and RV registrations from most states
- License numbers
- Year, model, make, and color of vehicle
- Information includes the names/addresses of registered owners
- Previous addresses
- The people known to have lived with you at the various addresses
- Phone numbers associated with each address (including unlisted numbers)
- Vehicles associated with each address
- Neighbors at each address (and their addresses and phone numbers)
Archived stories from thousands of newspapers and magazines
Corporate and Business Info
- Names and addresses of incorporated entities (including incorporated small businesses)
- The names and addresses of corporation owners/CEO's
A database on insurance claims filed nationwide. Includes
- The name(s) of the claimant(s)
- The name(s) of insured individual(s)/entities
- Information on claimants and insured (including addresses, date of birth, and social security numbers)
- Type of claim
- Location and date of claim
- Injuries claimed
Credit reporting service. Information avaliable on:
- Previous addresses
- Previous employers
- Credit reports (running a credit report without the subject's permission is illegal)
And where do these companies get their information? Public records, mortgage companies, banks, insurance companies, credit card companies, and others who have information on you. I learned about a most unusual data source at a training session I attended that was offered by one of the big database companies. The company trainer referred to it as the "pizza database." You know those pizza places that have caller ID? Once you've ordered from them, they store your name, address, and phone number for the next time you call. Makes it easier for them to process your order and deliver your pizza. And, according to the database company trainer, some of them are selling the information. Yes, you read that right. Your local pizza shop may be spying on you.
OTHER THINGS TO CONSIDER
Do you have one of those check cashing/discount cards for your local supermarket? If you do, every time you use it, your shopping habits are being tracked. And possibly sold.
And speaking of shopping, most large stores have some sort of closed-circuit video system in operation in order to catch/deter shoplifters. They're also watching their employees.
Is your employer watching you? It's easy if they care to. Miniature cameras can be disguised as smoke detectors, alarm clocks, motion detectors, wall clocks, paintings, speakers, and even Teddy bears. I've used such cameras before. They're very hard to detect.
And speaking of video, many cities and state highway departments have put video cameras in place to aid in criminal investigation, crime prevention, and traffic management.
Electronic toll collection systems like E-Z Pass can record your comings and goings on toll roads.
Do you surf the net? If so, your internet service provider has a record of all the sites you've visited. And the sites you visit can track the IP addresses of the people who visit them. And search engines have a record of your IP address and what you've searched for.
Do you use a cell phone? Cell records were being sold long before USA Today raised the alarm about the NSA getting the records. At least they weren't charging the government for them.
Here's a new one. I bought some Sudafed at Walmart this weekend. They no longer stock it on the shelf, so I had to get it from the pharmacy. They needed to see my drivers license before they'd give it to me. My license number and phone number were entered into their computer. This is done to prevent meth-lab proprietors from stocking up on the stuff for the manufacture of illegal drugs. Now I'm in another database, all because I had a stuffy nose.
There it is, folks. No reason to get all worked up about the arrival of some new Orwellian era. It's too late for outrage. We're already there. We have been for years. Invasion of privacy? What privacy?