By Seth Richardson
The close we creep to socialism, the more information the government needs in order to keep us under its thumb. Denying the government and everybody else access to this information impedes tyranny and fosters liberty. It’s time to take your privacy back, because it’s in more jeopardy now than it’s ever been.
Witness Obama’s dangerous steps towards computerization of private medical records. In his speech to the nation on January 8, 2009, he said, “To improve the quality of our health care while lowering its cost, we will make the immediate investments necessary to ensure that within five years, all of America’s medical records are computerized. This will cut waste, eliminate red tape, and reduce the need to repeat expensive medical tests. But it just won’t save billions of dollars and thousands of jobs – it will save lives by reducing the deadly but preventable medical errors that pervade our health care system.”
A laudable objective perhaps, but it’s a proposal so rife with potential for fraud, mismanagement and genuine harm that it simply must be resisted.
Have you ever been braced for name, address, phone number, date of birth, or social security number by some nosy shop clerk? Who hasn’t? What’s your reflexive reaction to such demands? Do you just obey and provide the information requested, or do you consider the ramifications of doing so versus the benefits you seek to obtain and then make a reasoned choice? Usually, we just capitulate because we’ve been trained to be open and honest, and we rarely ever see the harm in giving out such information.
But, have you ever wondered why you get so much junk mail? It’s because you answer intrusive questions for personal information from shop clerks and on-line businesses. Your personal information has enormous economic value, and even small businesses sell their customer data to “data aggregators,” who take in and collate this information and resell it to other commercial interests, and more frighteningly, to the government.
And junk mail is hardly the only, or most serious danger out there. Identity theft, assault and burglary can all be related to the imprudent release of private information. Does the guy at the car wash who cleans your expensive car have access to your home address either through the company computer or your registration? If so, it’s simple for him to pass along that information, along with the VIN number of your car, which he noted down as he cleaned the dash, which allows a car thief to identify the key necessary to steal your car.
We need to take a page from the Russian playbook here. Do you know what you get when you start asking a Russian for personal data? Stone-faced silence and sometimes outright hostility. Occasionally you might get some information, but it’s almost certain to be false. Russians have a long history of dealing with intrusive, oppressive bureaucracy and nosy government agents, and they’ve learned a lesson we here in the U.S. have forgotten; they’ve learned to keep their mouths shut when the government comes asking for information. It’s a right we’ve abdicated in the interests of commercial convenience.
It’s time for us to seize our privacy again, and start giving inquisitive store clerks and customer service personnel the gimlet eye and our stony silence, and to make no apology for either refusing their requests or chastising them for asking in the first place.
Start with small steps. When you take your car in to the quick-lube for an oil change, pay cash and decline to give them any information at all, even your name. When you call the credit card, cable or satellite company to resolve some issue, and they ask you to confirm your phone number, politely refuse, and be firm, because they will try to pry it out of you. If they get uppity, tell them that if they persist, you’ll cancel your account and find another provider. This usually shuts them up. But whatever you do, don’t give them the correct information. There’s nothing in the law that says you are not allowed to lie to a nosy store clerk. Do so, and be proud that you’ve defeated an attempt to invade your privacy.
And when it comes to your doctor, you should have a sit-down conversation with your medical provider and amend whatever contract you have with them and make it clear, in writing, that they do NOT have your permission to release your medical records to anyone without prior written approval from you. Include your insurance carrier in this declaration as well. Send them a letter, by certified mail, return receipt requested, stating clearly that your medical records are private, and are not to be shared with anyone, under any circumstances, particularly the government, without your permission. Might not work, but it can’t hurt.
And the first and most important thing you can do to begin securing your privacy is to never, ever, under any circumstances, give any merchant your physical home address. Using a post office box provides significant security at the cost of some minor inconvenience and cost. You don’t have to worry about your mail being stolen, people won’t know where you actually live by looking at your address, and you can let mail accumulate without worry if you go on vacation.
And if anyone ever asks you for your social security number, ask them if they have legal authority to compel you to give it to them. If they claim they do, then demand that they cite the federal statute that authorizes them to do so. If they don’t, or can’t cite the law, then carefully evaluate whether you really need to do business with that firm.
Sometimes it’s unavoidable, like when you ask for a loan from a bank or credit union, but in almost every other case, the only reason they want your SSN is so that they can run a credit check, and people run credit checks these days for the most preposterous reasons. If you run into this, and you can get along without the service, then tell them why you’re walking out and do so. Your SSN is the single most dangerous piece of information you have when it comes to your economic security. Guard it like you guard the passbook to your savings account or your cash.
When it comes to intrusive personal questions, just say no.
For more information on how to protect your privacy, go to http://www.howtobeinvisible.com
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