Monday, January 02, 2006

"A Reasonable Expectation of Privacy"

I've been trying to follow the NSA wiretapping story, and as worried as I am about what this government has been up to, as hopeful as I might be that finally an indignity worthy of uniting a majority might have been found, I have become rather pessimistic about the future of privacy in the American culture.

The title of this post comes from the FISA authorization law. Link. All of the definitions of "electronic surveillance" include this clause of "reasonable expectations of privacy." I presume that would include emails and phone calls. We've all always known that bloggish posts and commentary were public (that's the point, of course), but it still puts a shiver up my back to know that the law doesn't have any gray line for this kind of semi-public speech.

What really scares me, though, is the thought that most kids these days take for granted a much more public, exposed, surveilled existence. I'm right between Gen X and Gen Y. I can see and understand Gen Y's desire to live life in the open, as though paparazzi were just dying to photograph your every move, as though Kofi Annan were suddenly going to take directions from you--but my instincts are more Gen X: lie low, persevere in your talent, take it to the fuckers as you can, live your own life despite the bastards. We're headed into a new world, a more public, more easily surveilled world, and the younger generation seems already to know that privacy as we once imagined it is over.

An example: I've been going to the same NYC drug store for years. Every time, the clerks asked: "Do you have a club card?" and eventually, I cracked, figuring that a club card would get me instant discounts. The store price codes somewhat cryptically indicated that I would. So, after six months of dutifully presenting my card for every purchase, I receive what amounts to a five-dollar coupon that would expire in some 20 days. Not needing anything in that time, I didn't redeem it. They got a free consumer-tracking report, tagged to my real name, for nothing. I'm outraged, but then, I'm old-fashioned.

This shit is going on all the time, and people are only getting more used to it. Our laws are getting abused (but then, they were set up in the late 18th-c), but our culture is changing.


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