We're all concerned about protecting our privacy. At every intersection with life itself, we expect to be mugged for our precious secrets. Who will the mugger be?
Protecting one's privacy is not only a profound worry, it's an industry. In Australia, there's an Office of the Privacy Commissioner, whose job is to collect vast quantities of information about Australians worried about threats to their privacy, but not to make any of the information available. The University of Denver sponsors the Privacy Foundation, which rather chillingly defines civilization as "the progress toward a society of privacy." A society like that sounds lonely to me. I mean, don't you have to give a little - information, I mean - to get a little - social interaction. (I mean friendship, to use a somewhat antiquated expression.)
Should you worry about keeping your secrets? Let the Privacy Foundation count the ways you should. International privacy, financial privacy, student privacy, medical patient security, identity theft, homeland security, workplace privacy, Myspace.com. Yes, consider the Myspace privacy statement, very upfront: "MySpace.com collects user submitted information such as name, email address, and age to authenticate users and to send notifications to those users relating to the MySpace.com service. MySpace.com also collects other profile data including but not limited to: personal interests, gender, age, education and occupation in order to assist users in finding and communicating with each other."
Should you worry about your secrets? The better question is, Do you have any secrets?
The president is invading your privacy - if you are chatting up a terrorist, that is - and the Congress is trying to keep your secrets secret. All your secrets, that is, except your address, phone number, party registration, and precinct, so they can target you for fundraising appeals and tape-recorded mass phone calls from your party's candidate. Your alma mater is keeping track of your giving. Their next appeal will offer you the chance to break into the Tinman level in the annual endowment appeal, even though so many of your Class of 1967 mates are donors at the Gold Circle level. The Social Security Administration is keeping track of what you earn. Don't even talk about what the IRS is keeping track of, although the IRS is a no-nothing government snoop compared to Google, which knows everything you don't want them to know about you and those late-night web visits you make.
The Privacy Foundation of the University of Denver puts it this way in their Privacy Principles: "1) If personal data is digitally captured, it will be stored forever; 2) The stored personal data may be used any time and in the most negative way against the individual."
Let's follow the reasoning underlying these principles. Personal data is digitally captured, every time you swipe a credit card, get your passport scanned, check out stuff at the market or BJs, or wherever, or buy online or from a catalogue, or apply for credit, or answer a telephone poll, or send in your census form, and on and on. When you leave your youthful, silly, unformed life behind, all the personal information that's been collected on you is stored forever. You thought, you hoped, it had been lost forever, but perhaps it will turn up one day.
So, who will the mugger be? Who will give you up to the unknown strangers who may have something to sell you, or steal from you, or worse? Got a mirror handy? There's the culprit.
Just another word about that French expression on the cover of the Calendar section two weeks ago. Anna Marie D'Addarie, meticulous operations officer for the Calendar and Community sections, advises as follows, and in no uncertain terms: "Our spelling of 'Laissez les bontemps roulez' is the colloquial spelling of 'let the good times roll' and, according to experts, probably Cajun or Zydeco. The spelling can be found on the official New Orleans web site, as well as on thousands of other sites. To use the correct spelling [substituting -er for -ez] would have been very pretentious indeed, as we were celebrating a New Orleans tradition of Mardi Gras, where this spelling is not only accepted, but preferred.
"I think the people who have called or e-mailed us about this should be told the reason we used this spelling."