April 23, 2013

Is That Big Brother Peeking in at You Through Your Window?

“All human beings have three lives: public, private, and secret.” ~ Gabriel Garcí­a Márquez

I had to update my employment records yesterday, including signing an amendment to my current background investigation. Having worked in this industry for over 20-odd years, I guess I have grown a little accustomed to the rigors of these reviews.

But, this one smacked at my senses just a little more than any of those before; because, in signing this new “Financial Disclosure Statement” I was literally giving my employer access to my children’s financial records, as well as my own.

Now, having said just this, I wish to offer a bit of context—as, in those 20 odd years, I have not once and not ever: been arrested, had a traffic violation, bounced a check, flipped off a cop or other higher ranking ‘high brow’, nor have I otherwise done anything that would ever even remotely constitute a second glance.

And, in all of my years of employment here—my performance reviews have always been nothing less than impeccable.

I live a mostly transparent life—what you see, is very much what you get. I offer no excuses nor any apologies. I am who I am and I’m damn proud of it.

And, I’m not just saying this to toot my own horn—although, sometimes as a writer we like to see our stuff posted on the proverbial ‘refrigerator door.’ Rather, I offer this to hopefully shed a little light on a much bigger problem—that sometimes too much information can become an awfully bad thing.

More data, means more people required to review said pile of disconnected data points. And, all intended to create a most complete profile—of my inside, most innermost me.

And so, they comb through every detail of every moment of my ever waking life. Each and every so often I literally have a team of people looking into me. In order to maintain my job, I have had to sign authorizations to release my financial, medical, and other assorted details of my life and living.

And, every so often and again—I have to beg my dearest of friends to “Please, I know it’s such a painful bother….but, would you mind, please…just being my reference, once again?”

And, I won’t even go into the impacts all of this has had on my own personal life and world.

But, this is the life, I guess, I have chosen. And even with all that rigor and review—we still have ‘bad guys’ getting in.

Why? Because, our agencies are inundated with an overload of information. In their attempts to make things more secure, they’ve hooked themselves up to Pandora’s ‘firehose’—because they haven’t yet learned that more isn’t necessarily better, rather sometimes ‘more’ makes things far, far worse.

So, imagine my upset reading through the headlines this morning—“US Employees Set to be Forced to Give Bosses Their Facebook Passwords.”

For those of you who aren’t yet aware, this was one portion of the much larger Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (better known as, CISPA) which on Thursday was passed by our U.S. House of Representatives. This bill is intended to help our Government ‘react’ to cyber security attacks, making it easier to ‘share’ information between government and private sector organizations. Specifically,

“(a) Coordinated Activities- The Federal Government shall conduct cybersecurity activities to provide shared situational awareness that enables integrated operational actions to protect, prevent, mitigate, respond to, and recover from cyber incidents.”

Look, I’ve lived and breathed these investigatory intrusions almost all of my life. I get the necessity for a thorough review of someone’s background. But, likewise, I have watched as our agencies become ‘choked’ with too much information.

Likewise, I believe there is a reasonable right to privacy in the protection of our own personal information. That’s why we have HIPAA protections in place, and that’s why Federal agencies require a warrant to access this type of information. For those of you who aren’t quite as ‘pleasantly and most pleasingly weathered as I am—there was a moment in time whereby our Government took strong measure to ensure the privacy of all Americans. There was a time when the actions of our own Government were regulated by United States Signals Intelligence Directive (USSID) 18—which, and I am very much summarizing, essentially made it illegal for Big Brother to spy on American’s.

And now, here I sit reading over this article—and wondering, whatever became of our reasonable right to privacy.

To create measures that potentially enable employers unlimited access to our digital data—is irresponsible and one step too far, I believe.

On Thursday, Colorado Democrat Ed Perlmutter attempted to attach a provision to this bill that would make it illegal for employers to “require prospective employees to hand over their social media passwords as a condition of acquiring or keeping a job.”

That proposal was voted down 224-189, with Republicans leading the majority.

“People have an expectation of privacy when using social media like Facebook and Twitter. They have an expectation that their right to free speech and religion will be respected when they use social media outlets. No American should have to provide their confidential personal passwords as a condition of employment. Both users of social media and those who correspond share the expectation of privacy in their personal communications. Employers essentially can act as imposters and assume the identity of an employee and continually access, monitor and even manipulate an employee’s personal social activities and opinions. That’s simply a step too far,” said Perlmutter.

So what’s the big interest now in passing these measures? The cyber threat hasn’t so much changed in the last dozen or so years—when people want information, they will always find a way to get it.

What’s changed is that we’ve grown into a society that has virtualized every waking moment of our day—from our banking records to our child’s very first steps…it’s all out there (pointing) in ‘cyberspace.’

And, much like the ringing of a bell—once it’s out there, there’s really no way to ‘un-ring’ it, is there? Even the most sophisticated of techno geeks, will have a hard time erasing all their tracks.

I guess it all boils down to that age old question—who owns the information on the internet? And, how do you really protect yourself in cyberspace?

But mostly, how do you feel about potentially relinquishing your right to the privacy that we soldiers—for many long generations—fought so valiantly to guarantee?

Many of you may pass over these headlines, thinking that it’s yet another Government ‘pee-ing’ match.

But I urge you to think very thoughtfully of these future impacts—as it might just take away what you believed to be always yours.

By the way, all of this proposed legislation is available online for your review. It’s not only your right, but also your duty as a citizen to make sure your freedoms are always protected.

I’ll even make it easy for you, here’s a link to it right here.

Yes, there must be measures in place—but in all things, shouldn’t there be balance? If we really want to keep those bad guys away, there must be a much better means to that end.

My law professor once said to me, “Tara, your Constitutional rights end where another person’s nose begins.”

For some reason, I am reminded of his words today. At what cost is security? Is it at the sacrifice of our civil liberties and personal freedoms?

In that case, maybe the bad guys have already won.

So, now that I have hopped off the soapbox, so to speak, I am really interested to know what everyone else might think?


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Ed: Kate Bartolotta

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