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07/17/2003 Archived Entry: "Ironies of "privacy protection""

IRONIES AND INCONSISTENCIES. Federal "medical privacy" rules are making it difficult for the media to report the names of accident victims. Yet at the same time, a simple call to 911 to report a heart attack or a broken leg lands you in a data-mining system, which is used to link you, your family members, and friends to crimes.


We can debate whether it's a good or bad thing that reporters have a hard time publicizing names of injured victims. (Ghoulish reporters can be a PITA, but remember the less they're able to follow up on private sources of info, the more their reporting will be based only on info from self-interested government agencies, like police departments.)

Whatever we think of reporters, the contrast between these two privacy/anti-privacy policies gives us a perfect example of where we're headed. Our personal lives are being "protected" against private, free-market inquiry, while at the same time they are ever-more-ruthlessly, carelessly, and self-righteously ripped open for the inspection of government.

Side note: Although the CopLink database described above has been implemented only in a few places, the practice of putting innocent and unsuspecting 911 callers' information into a criminal-investigation database is near-universal. In my county, that criminal database is strictly local -- so far. But a friendly 911 operator told me if you're concerned about privacy avoid giving your middle initial or birthdate when making any emergency call. He says it's these two things that make the database searches easy. At least in this neck of the woods. (And of course, depending on what you're reporting and where you're calling from, you can decline to give any personal information at all. But if you're calling from your home number or are the driver in a vehicle accident or are reporting your wallet stolen -- into the database you go.)

Posted by Claire @ 10:45 AM CST

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