Tuesday, June 14, 2005

"Marge, I Hate Ted Koppel"*

"No, wait a minute.. I find him witty and informative":

We need mandatory clarity and transparency; not just with regard to the services that these miracles of microchip and satellite technology offer but also the degree to which companies share and exchange their harvest of private data.

We cannot even begin to control the growing army of businesses and industries that monitor what we buy, what we watch on television, where we drive, the debts we pay or fail to pay, our marriages and divorces, our litigations, our health and tax records and all else that may or may not yet exist on some computer tape, if we don't fully understand everything we're signing up for when we avail ourselves of one of these services.

This after an introductory slap at the PATRIOT Act. You know, Ted, I don't really share Homer Simpson's retraction that I quoted in my intro -- I'm not really a fan of yours, on the grounds that you brownnose Henry Kissinger and you subjected me one too many times to the ravings of Cal Thomas -- but you make perfect sense here.

Even though "privacy" is a constitutionally implicit rather than explicit right, I have no doubt as to the attitude of even the conservative Founders to the various technological assaults on it which are so flagrant today. And, really, there used to be a time conservatives and libertarians actually gave a shit about this sort of thing. No more.

The conservatives and conservatarians of course toe the current party line on privacy; but there are always partisan hacks. What happened to the libertarians? Technophilia, I suspect, is a part of it as is so often the case. Also, the Chamber of Commerce mentality is hard to overcome. They do, indeed, worry about privacy and most consistent libertarians are against the PATRIOT Act, and they deserve credit for that. But when it comes to private snooping, they are ..yes, laissez-faire. They finesse the philosophical question by insisting that such information is given voluntarily. Yet it is not, often because the companies don't inform customers of their information gathering and sharing activities. This is Koppel's point, and it's a good one. But it should be taken further.

I posit that it is a bad thing for such information to be gathered under any circumstances. It can be lost or stolen, as Koppel says. But more importantly, it can always in theory be seized by the government, a propect that becomes more likely when we have a fascist in office (to be fair, put in place by a man I suspect most small-L libertarians voted for) like Ashcroft and Gonzales.

The other argument against private information-gathering is that often, and increasingly, there is not a choice to whether accept it. Libertarians I argue with love to deny it, but there is a such thing as structural coercion. By the design of capital, we are becoming evermore a cashless economy. Hence, credit and debit cards and electronic records. Koppel mentions trackable tollbooth passes. He mentions that they are more convenient, which is true, but he doesn't mention that they are also cheaper, at least in my experience. What is a person to do who must commute? What if you have an emergency and must rent a car? Gotta have a credit card for that. At the bank downstairs, one cannot cash a check or open an account without a fingerprint. These are but examples.