Lileks: Your personal data is (probably) safe

  • Article by: JAMES LILEKS , Star Tribune
  • Updated: September 14, 2013 - 4:27 PM

We’re conflicted about privacy. Some people will Facebook a picture of themselves sucking a Jell-O shot from the navel of a Cancun waitress, but pitch a fit if they learn the NSA might have overheard them call Domino’s twice in one week.

Some industries have strict laws. My wife works in a field where there are so many privacy laws she cannot tell me anything about her work, including the exact location of her office. Here’s dinner conversation:

“How was your unspecified, undefined effort to find progress in that situation?”

“You know better than to ask that.”

Government has these laws as well, but as we’ve learned, that didn’t stop some state employees from romping through hundreds of records looking up such tantalizing data as “weight and height.” The only reason you do this is because you HATE that person, hate her hate her, and you’re sure she’s lying on her driver’s license. 120? Hah! Then you feel all righteous because, well, you shouldn’t be looking at her records, but she shouldn’t be lying to the government about her weight. So it evens out.

Then there’s the MNsure kerfuffle, where someone e-mailed 2,500 names, Social Security numbers, addresses, blood type, soda preferences, bra size, Netflix viewing history, etc., to someone by accident. News stories say the recipient was walked “through a process of deleting the file from their computer hard drives.”

Whew: Data’s safe. Unless the recipient put the file on a thumb drive, which the kid takes to school for a project, loses and the janitor puts it up on the Internet on a server in Russia.

Solution: Make it as difficult for state employees to access personal records as it is to launch a nuclear missile. Two people have to enter a code, then turn keys simultaneously. Or, collect less data on people. But of course, that’s really not sensible.

By the way, imagine a book containing your name, age, address, marital status, the names of your children and your occupation, printed without your consent and delivered to every house in the city. Yikes, right?

Sixty years ago they called it the “phone book.”

jlileks@startribune.com • 612-673-7858

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