Sunday, January 08, 2006

Privacy --why do I really value it?


January 8, 2006

"In a nutshell, the Chicago Sun-Times ran a story two days ago about a Web site that sells phone records, for cells and land-lines, for $110 a pop. The company boasts on its own Web site:

"Give us the cell phone number and we will send you the calls made from the cell phone number.

"So I went to their site, plopped down $110, and within a day I had a list of every single phone number that called my cell, or that I called from my cell, for the month of November. I even had the dates the calls were made, and for a premium I could find out how long the calls were."

So, is this a scary thought?

It was to me when I read it and then I wondered why it was.

I recognize that someone could do me harm with this informaton but they wouldn't need this information to do me harm. Someone who really wanted to do me harm could do it without this information.

I can see how I would be concerned if I were making calls that would indicate that I was doing things that I would rather not have other people know about because I was acting "in the dark," and I didn't want want that behavior brought into the light. If I were cheating on my spouse, for example, or doing criminal stuff, or making personal calls on work time and such.

So my take on this is that I would rather that this information were not available like this and I would love to know how they are doing this. It seems to me that I expected that this information would be confidential but I cannot point to some specific assurance I have ever received, at least not in regard to cell phones. I thought that after some Congressmen were embarrassed that some of their cell phone calls were inadvertantly overheard on other phones that a federal law was passed about intercepting cell phone calls but I'm not sure about that.

I do know that people have wierd notions about privacy--notions that are not supported by law. For example, video cameras in public places designed to detect and deter crime are perfectly legal because in public places one has, legally, no reasable expectation of privacy. But, given the state of technology, today, where does one have a reasonable expectation of privacy?

I remember when photo radar was debated in the Oregon legislature it was obvious that some members were uncomfortable about where a car (and its driver) might be photographed and with whom. They were obviously concerned about photographed drivers being in more trouble than a mere traffic ticket.

Although I do agree that people should not be allowed to get a list of all phone calls made from a specific number I also wonder about why this is such an odious idea to us. There are, no doubt, real threats to us posed by such access, but I think, too, that some of our fears in this regard have to do with the fact that we are too often up to things that, if revealed, would compromise us in the eyes of our employers, our families and our communities. In other words, whatever else such revelation would do, it might also reveal the corruption within our whitewashed sepulchers.

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