I’ve written before about the decline of personal privacy. We slap RFID tags on our vehicles to make paying tolls marginally less painful. We carry around a mobile tracking device in our pockets. Many of us live with home security cameras that can see all but the most private moments.
The tech industry’s move towards developing apps that use our phone’s onboard GPS to track proximity to potentially infected people may sound like an altruistic use of technology to improve public health. Outside of saying they’re working on this “neat new thing,” not much is being said about the implications that come along with using such a personal tracker. Without knowing what, if any, legal safeguards will be in place, details of what beyond proximity is being collected, how long it will be stored, who will have access to it, how it will be used, and what control I will have over what’s collected, I have to say it’ll be pass from me.
I’ve signed over some degree of privacy to big tech already because I value the services they provide. At its heart, though, my cell phone is nothing more than a tool. I have no intention of taking life guidance from it – or from Apple or Google or any of the other firms racing into this space.
I won’t be wearing a tinfoil hat anytime soon, but I feel like sooner rather than later I’ll find my phone living in a Faraday bag except for moments when I need to use the damned thing.
1. Data mining. Every time I start thinking that data mining is becoming too invasive and privacy becoming too fragile, the interent reminds me that it’s still pretty far away from going Skynet and killing us all. You see, I know this because companies that specialize mining “big data” keep feeding me ads about how to find and finance the “perfect engagement ring.” I’ll admit to having a passing interest in gemstones, but I can’t claim a need or interest in actually buying them. I have neither the inclination or reason to do so… and I’ve never once searched the internet for one. The cloud might know our reading tastes and hold the secrets to our collective perversions in our search results, but in many ways it doesn’t feel like the interent knows me at all.
2. Domestic enemies. All newly hatched federal employees take an oath of office. The one I took isn’t too far different from the one taken by a typical Army officer or even the one sworn by members of Congress. Unless I missed an unprinted annex or codicil, though, my oath to support and defend the Constitution didn’t include an oath of poverty and it certainly wasn’t an oath of unpaid servitude. That there are near on 400,000 people who swore an oath to support and defend the Constitution against enemies foreign and domestic currently fulfilling their oath without pay is an embarrassment – made all the worse because each day they bring back more an more “unpaid help” in order to avoid inconveniencing anyone. Excuse me? It seems that if you’re going to have a shut down of something the whole point is to make it as inconvenient and painful as possible. And these twatwaffels are sure as blue hell “inconveniencing” the people they expect to pay out of their own pockets for the privilege of coming to work. I blame President Trump. I blame the leadership in both the House and the Senate. I blame every single member of Congress who uses this as an opportunity to grandstand. And I increasingly think I know who the “domestic” enemies are that our oath featured so prominently.
3. Blood. Blood as a rule doesn’t bother me. I can see people bleeding and not flinch. The rivers could run thick with the stuff and I’m not sure I’d notice… but let me be strapped into a chair at the local doctor’s office and have someone start sucking vials of my own precious life-sustaining fluid from my veins and I’m apt to go all cross-eyed and pasty. I just feel like medical science should do us a favor and step beyond the age of leeches here.
1. People who can’t end a meeting on time. I’m perfectly fine admitting that in consideration for your money, I am perfectly willing to sell you eight hours of my time. It’s a done deal. However, I feel an increasing need to make it clear that level of payment does not include any extras. I know that everyone is busy – and that we’re forced to live within an artificially constrained manpower allowance. All that means is there’s likely to be more work than people available to do it in the time you have purchased from us. As this is not a circumstance I created, it’s therefore important to know that if you want more of my time over and above that agreed to in the basic service package, well, the meter is going to have to start running. Or you can just start ending meetings on time. Either way.
2. People who use my desk as a phone booth. I don’t have any earthly care if someone needs to take a personal call at the office. Life happens and often it happens during weekdays. Please, go take that call if you need to, but for the love of Christ the Almighty Redeemer, can you please take it back to your own desk, or out in the hallway, or anywhere other than hovering three feet away from me while you’re doing it? I know these calls are very important, but I don’t have any need or desire to listen in on one half of the discussion about your latest trip to the doctor, what a shit day your significant other is having, or the baby’s last bowel movement. As it turns out, the concept of privacy doesn’t just protect you, but it also protects me from thinking you’re an enormous asshat.
3. Seeing the cashier. Generally when I pull up to the gas pump it’s because I want to top off the tank and be back on the road in as expeditious a manner as possible. What I don’t want to experience is card #1 being rejected, card #2 being rejected, and then hearing a tinny voice over the intercom letting me know that I need to come inside to pay. No, I don’t. That’s especially true because we’re not living in 1985. If the 20 credit card readers you have outside aren’t working, what on earth would make me think one of the two you have inside would be up and running? Walking inside and then standing in a line fifteen people deep to find “we’re only taking cash” would pretty much just add insult to already wasted time. So no, if you’re not going to make it easy for me to give you my money, I’ll happily drive next door and give it to your competition.
So at least one major news outlet is making a big stink that the US Department of State doesn’t include taking a look at the Facebook page of people entering the country – in this case on the now infamous K1, fiancée visa. The official line is that it would be an invasion of privacy, which is the point where their argument starts to lose me.
I’m not at all sure that there is, or should be, any expectation of privacy when it comes to information you share with people on Facebook. The very nature of the platform is that the information is put there so that many people can see it all at once. That’s kind of the point of social media unless I’m missing a mark somewhere.
I don’t guess there’s much chance we can all agree on this, but it seems reasonable to me that the nice bureaucrats over at State could probably take a look around an applicant’s Facebook page and go ahead and rule out those who are friends with ISIS, Al-Qaeda, or any of a number of pretty well known enemies of the state. If it’s sitting right out there on an open source platform and they’re not bright enough to keep that sort of jackassery encrypted, we could at least skim off that proportion of potential terrorists who are not so bright instead of welcoming them with a green card and tax ID.
If you want to be let into the country in order to wrap yourself in its benefits and protections, I’m not at all sure letting the investigator give your online life the once over is any more out of line than expecting you to list your next of kin and a few personal references.
I’m not sold on the idea that every cop in America needs to wear a body camera for the duration of his or her shift. I don’t think they should be a special exemption just for the sake of being police, but the whole concept of the body cam is one I find intensely problematic. If the police are the vanguard of this “always filmed” society, how long does it take until they’re standard issue in other sectors. Slap a cam on retail employees to make sure they’re being polite to customers. Check the vid feed from guy running the register to make sure he’s not handing out a free apple pie with that #3. Securing information is a breeze when everyone with access to it is required to wear a cam so the security guys can overwatch everything set in front of them.
There are plenty of supposed benefits to slapping a camera on everyone. For me, so far, the case hasn’t been sufficiently made. It feels wrong. It feels vaguely un-American. I’m just not sure that I want a camera hanging around my neck to film my next walk to the coffee stand, or to the restroom, poking through unread emails, or taking a loop around the courtyard while I’m trying to chew over a particularly troublesome issue.
Being filmed during the day from start to end feels incredibly intrusive – and while it would undoubtedly change some behaviors, I’m not at all sure it would make me a better employee. It would make me a more cautious and fearful employee, but that’s a long way from making me better. Maybe in this one thing my thinking is a relic of the last century, but the current obsession with getting it all down on film screams a vote of no confidence in your people to do the right thing more often than not. If your people are scumbags, the camera won’t fix that. If they’re not scumbags, no camera is necessary. I know which way I’d address the issue, but getting rid of the asshats up front is a lot harder than just buying some fancy new gear and calling the problem fixed.
If history is any guide, of course, we’ll continue to chase the easy solutions until all we’re left with are the hard ones. Some things never change.
1. Wasting my goddamned time. Sometimes things happen that are unavoidable. Life can’t always be expected to run like clockwork. I get it. That said, when standard procedure ends often as not in a week’s worth of work ending up in the trash bin, I’m not sure that’s really the best possible use of resources. Look, I get paid whether I split the atom or fling spit balls, but on average I’d rather spend my days doing have some semblance of value. I mean I’m going to keep taking your money either way, but it seems like everyone would be better off if there was something more to show for the time other than half finished powerpoint.
2. Websites with ads that automatically play music or video clips. Stop it. Just stop. I will immediately close the offending screen. You will never get my business because your marketing is obnoxious and distracting. Be subtle. Build a great product. I’ll happily buy your stuff then – maybe even pay a bit of a premium for a premium product. I don’t care how good a widget you make is, though, if you insist on assaulting my senses just to get me to look at it.
3. The Office of Personnel Management. I like to think if I were as ragingly incompetent at my job as whoever is responsible for network security at OPM is, I’d be on the street looking for a job right now. Seriously, though, losing 25 million (and at this rate probably more) individual social security numbers and other identifying information about employees, their friends, families, college roommates, childhood neighbors, and former employers is really an extraordinarily impressive accomplishment. I’m sure I appreciate the free “credit monitoring” and all, but if we could make some heads roll I’d at least feel a little better that someone, somewhere was being held accountable. I’d ask for the immediate initiation of hostilities of the nation or group responsible for the theft, but it already feels like that’s just a bridge too far for the asshats running the show in the District.
1. Summer. I can’t help but notice in the last week or so that we’ve entered the part of the year when I drive by the local high school twice a day and find its parking lot absolutely empty. I’m not even going to try getting into a discussion about teaching, whether it’s an over paid or under paid profession, or even whether it should be open for business year round. For good or ill, we’re still using the 10-on, 2-off schedule of the agrarian age… and as long as we are I will continue to be insanely jealous of our nation’s teachers whenever I drive past on a beautiful summer morning and find them not there. June, July, and August are truly the only three things I miss about teaching… and if I’m perfectly honest with everyone, I’m already looking forward just a little bit to that day in August when they’re stuck back in the grind with the rest of us.
2. “Working families”-based legislation. I’ve noticed this week that the administration is trotting out the whole “working parents” discussion again. Look, I get that having a job and balancing everything else in your life is at best a challenge and at worst an exercise in futility. For working parents, I can understand that taking care of your kids is your first priority. That’s good. That’s how it should be. On the other hand, since I’ve opted not to go that route, I think it needs said that I don’t consider my own top priority items any less important to me than yours are to you. Every time I hear a politician spout something about making life easier for working families, my middle finger gives a little twitch. How about we come up with a few programs that makes life easier for employees in general rather than just a subset of the group? Trust me, I don’t value paid time off or a more flexible schedule any less than you do just because my dependents have four legs and fur (or scales).
3. Lack of focus. Yesterday the Supreme Court of the United States issued a unanimous ruling that law enforcement could not unilaterally search your cell phone without a warrant or in the most extreme of emergency situations. Read that again. It was a unanimous opinion of the court. A win for personal privacy doesn’t get much more decisive than that. But we’re collectively paying more attention to grown men kicking a ball or whatever celebri-skank did something whoretastic this week. Whether you agree with my assessments of daily events or not, I’d consider it hugely helpful if we could all at least try to pay a little attention to something beyond what’s “reported” on TMZ or ESPN.
I feel like I should write a post about some combination of the IRS, NSA, privacy, and executive overreach… but honestly it’s just all too exhausting to put into words. This great country was a constitutional republic once and could be still if more than a handful of people were interested in holding the elected representatives of the people accountable for their words and actions. I’m not holding my breath. If anyone needs me, I’ll be downstairs turning the basement into a room-sized Faraday cage so I can have the occasional untapped conversation.
I complain alot about Uncle Sam’s half-assed approach to managing his people… and God knows I’m not going to withdraw any of those previous commentaries. They all have the convenient aspect of being statements of fact rather than simple opinion. The one thing, though, that I won’t fault Uncle on is his policy on sick leave. We rack up 104 hours of sick leave every year and the unused balance rolls over from year to year assuming you don’t use all 13 days earned. Not a bad deal compared to some of the paid-time-off schemes out there.
The only reason I bring it up is I’m currently on the second day in a row sitting here on the couch alternately burning up and shivering. It’s good times. Really. I heard from several people yesterday that men are babies when it comes to dealing with the average case of “sick.” Maybe it’s true, maybe it isn’t. I tend to go with the latter. I’m still keeping up with feeding and watering the zoo, taking care of the three S’s every morning, and making my own trips to the drug store. I’ve even managed to feed myself for the last 36 hours – which has been pretty easy since the only flavor I can really taste is salty. I even think I’m getting along with a minimum amount of complaint.
Maybe the deciding element for “being a baby” has to do with not feeling the compulsion to go sit at my desk while I’m hacking and wheezing all over everything. I know some people do, but I just can’t see any up side to it. If I’m going to spend the day shooting weird neon colored snot out my nose, blowing through two boxes of tissues a day, and generally feeling sick and tired, I’d rather do that in the privacy of my own home than have ten people listening in on my progress. If that makes me a baby, well, fine… but I’d go more with responsible adult.
Now if anyone needs me, I’ll be watching House reruns and trying to diagnose myself.
I make a point of being just as honest and open here as is realistically possible. There are, however, some topics that I don’t feel perfectly free to touch on in a public forum. As life-long writer it’s frustrating because getting thoughts down on “paper” is the way I tend to think through things. On the other hand, that instinct is balanced by there just being things that don’t need to be put in print for general consumption. The social contract here on the internet is that we all tend to expose far more of outselves to the public sphere that was common even ten years ago. It’s become so ingrained that most of us don’t even think about it as a matter of course. Be honest, how many of you have actually taken the time to figure out how to use the privacy settings on Facebook to really control how much different people or groups can see about you? I’m betting that there aren’t too many hands raised out there. I’m not making a judgement call on that by the way. When your name is your web address, you pretty much give up the right to criticize how anyone else manages their online privacy.
The last thing I’ll say is that you shouldn’t read too much into this little post. It’s mostly been a quick thought exercise while I try to get my head wrapped around a few things, so with that I now return you to your regularly scheduled weekend.