The Breakfast Table

Private Parts

Dear Alex,

Yes, I did see the New York Times story about the FTC’s proposed law enforcing Internet privacy standards, but my reaction was the opposite of yours. While you apparently deplore “more regulation” per se, I will lobby for or against the regulation depending on what it does–notably, whether it violates civil liberties, as did the Communications Decency Act, or instead reinforces civil liberties, as the proposed privacy legislation would do. Contrary to your assertion that “only” FTC lawyers were complaining about on-line privacy violations, as the Times story itself points out, the FTC personnel were acting in response to complaints from many individuals and groups. Those groups include the ACLU and other leading cyberliberties advocates, such as EPIC and EFF. And what we are seeking is simply respect for the most fundamental tenets of data privacy: that no information about an individual should be collected or revealed without his/her knowledge and consent; and that even information that s/he knowingly reveals to one source for one purpose should not be revealed to any other source or for any other purpose.

Alex, I know how much you cherish individual freedom. Therefore, I’m surprised that you are so dismissive about these privacy concerns. As the story notes, some of the information that is wrested from us and disseminated without our knowledge or consent is highly personal–e.g., about our health, income, and personal preferences. Now I realize that you happen to be a real “ham,” Alex, and might readily consent to revealing this kind of information! (BTW, do you favor jockeys or boxers? Just testing!) But don’t you agree that that should always be a matter of informed, voluntary, individual choice? As the FTC’s investigation makes clear, market forces are not effectively promoting consumer choice in this area–no doubt because too many Net users don’t realize how much privacy they’re unwittingly forfeiting as the price of accessing certain sites. My in-home free-market economics expert (who also passes on greetings to you) confirms to me that Federal regulation of the type advocated by the ACLU (see links one and two.) and the FTC–which simply assures consumer information–would be in aid of a well-functioning market.

Well, at least we did share common reactions to the reports about our government’s (mis) informants in the Sudanese situation. Again, I saw interesting parallels between domestic and international concerns here as I did in the stories I discussed earlier today. As the New York Times reported, these agents created a “climate of fear and mistrust” about “startling terrorist threats” that became the basis for our government’s (over) reactions. Remember the fears of terrorism that were sparked by the TWA explosion, triggering government “security” measures such as creating vast new computerized databases of personal information about airplane travelers (yet another online privacy invasion) and using “profiles” to subject particular travelers (we-know-who) to especially intrusive surveillance? Notwithstanding our subsequent information that terrorism was not responsible for the TWA tragedy, the repressive government policies are still in place. (Oh, and one of the pending new airport “security” measures–body-imaging technology –would supply the answer to my previous question about your undergarments–inter alia!)