Tuesday, July 16, 2013


Today at a doctor’s office I was handed a medical form to fill out.  More of the same, I thought, putting my pencil to paper.  Half-way down the list, I edited my thinking.  This questionnaire was definitely not “more of the same.”  This one had gone where no others had gone before.     

“How many sexual partners have you had?” it asked.    
I have to admit that even at my advanced age (yet determined to continue advancing) I was taken by surprise. But I shouldn’t have been.  It was only the year before that I received a charge from the same clinic for an annual visit.  Under the rules of my insurance, annual visits were covered so I called Accounts Receivable and asked why the charge. After a few minutes the anonymous clerk informed me that part of my conversation with the doctor did not constitute an annual visit.  “And how would you know what we talked about?” I asked.  “It’s all here.  Doctors are required to keep complete notes of all discussions and forward them to us for billing purposes.”

Apparently, the days of privacy between doctors and patients are gone, and “guarantees” by Government, hospitals, clinics, doctors’ offices, etc that all medical records are held private aren’t worth the paper they weren’t written on.  Anyone who wants “in” will find a way.   
You don’t believe me?  In 2010 the Blue Cross & Blue Shield network was hacked into.  Three thousand individual patient records were compromised. In 2012, some 4,000 records were stolen from the University of Michigan Health System’s records, but those events are child’s play compared to the millions of medical records now available for purchase on the Black Market side of the internet – all selling for as little as $20 to $30 per case. This “safekeeping” of our medical records has produced a treasure trove of personal data for use and misuse by Government, Business, and Individuals.   
These are just a few examples of the unintended consequences of government “management.”  But you ain’t seen nothing yet ….Look!  Up in the sky!  It’s a bird.  It’s a plane!  No, it’s Super-drone.   

Last year President Obama signed into law a bill authorizing the use of domestic drones by law enforcement agencies.  These modern day supermen will be used to pursue illegal aliens, apprehend criminals, track lost hikers, and pinpoint the whereabouts of errant husbands and wives. When technology came through the door, privacy went out the window.    
            And now we know that under the NSA’s PRISM program, all Americans have been under surveillance for the past seven years.   Our every keystroke, phone call, e-mail, text message, video chat, and internet search has become part of the Government’s metadata collection.  The meaning of “relevant” was broadened (to the point of irrelevance) in order to capture our every move and thought, necessary, we are told, in finding patterns of suspicious behavior between individuals and known terrorists.  
            This mass surveillance of millions of Americans is considered by many to be a violation of the Fourth Amendment, which guarantees us the right to privacy and protection from Government’s overreach.   Is it a violation?   
President Obama insists that this data-mining is only a “modest encroachment on (our) privacy.”  The NSA pontificates that our rights have not been violated because metadata content may not be read or heard without first procuring a warrant from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC)… and the FISC will not issue a warrant without evidence of a link between the object of the warrant and known terrorist(s).   
That sounds reassuring -- until you learn that 34,000 warrants have been requested during the Court’s thirty-year history, and only 11 were denied.  Sounds a bit like….
          There are other problems with the FISC: it only hears arguments from Government attorneys and agents; its meetings are closed; rulings cannot be appealed or reviewed; and it has in the past refused requests for documents under the Freedom of Information Act.  This is, essentially, a secret Court, possibly too political, too biased, and too easily compromised to be trusted.  
            So how did all this super-surveillance of millions of Americans come to be?  How did “relevant” and “modest” come to mean “everything?” The answer is: 9-11.  There is no argument among rational people that we are living in a dangerous world and that we want our Government to protect us.  Yet people are angry because the Government has been hacking, tracking, and photographing us without our knowledge.  But perhaps we are being insincere; after all, haven’t we -- on our own volition -- deposited some 97 billion pieces of personal information into the data cesspool… all in the name of convenience and fun?    
Yes, we have.  Remember that search you did on Amazon for a new face cream and was subsequently inundated with banner and pop-up ads on your computer, text messages on your cell, marketers on your landline, and coupons in your mailbox, all pitching the Fountain of Youth?  And what about that donation you made to the local Humane Society last year, using your credit card? Since then you’ve been solicited by the ASPCA, the Morris Animal Foundation, PetSmart charities, Animal Welfare Institute, World Wildlife Fund, and The WILD Foundation. 
And didn’t you voluntarily join Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, where you spilled your guts and now find that your guts are spread across the world? I bet if you do a Google search on yourself, you’ll find statements you’ve made in the past and that others have made about you.  You may even find a photo of yourself at www.images.google.com.  In truth, the world knows more about you now than your mother ever did so what right do you have to complain about the Government’s data-mining?   
Every right in the world! 
Last I heard we were still a Democracy, and in a Democracy you don’t take without asking.  What we give away (even stupidly) is on our volition, but when Government takes without permission, that smells more like a Dictatorship.      
We also have the right because in case of a terrorist attack, it’s our heads on the chopping block….   

We have the right and the responsibility (via our Congressmen) to decide the quantitative and qualitative limits of such words as “relevant” in the collection of metadata.  It’s also our right to decide how much we’re willing to sacrifice in exchange for promises of national security.   
We have the right to know what planned terrorist attacks were thwarted, thanks to PRISM’s metadata collection.  We already know that NSA and the other intelligence agencies were unable to prevent the Ft. Hood and Boston Marathon massacres, but what we’ll never know is if better use of human intelligence (information from Ft. Hood personnel… warnings from the Russian Government regarding the Tsarnaev brothers) might not have stopped these bloodbaths.     
And, finally, we have the right to expect that all Government intelligence programs be subject to impartial, non-governmental oversight and that these watchdogs report back to the public.  We have the right to expect the transparency in Government we were promised by President Obama.


What good is all the privacy in the world if terrorists who have the inclination and wherewithal to blow our heads off are free to do so?   And what kind of life would it be (even in the name of saving our heads) if we lose all our civil liberties in the process?  
“Security vs. Privacy” is a double-edged sword of the sharpest order because we cannot have both 100% security and 100% privacy.  A balance between the two must be found, and that balance should be decided by We, the people. 
                                    # # #
At that point in my thinking, I heard the nurse call my name, and I still hadn’t answered the question – “How many sexual partners have you had?” 
 “23,456,” I wrote.    

Whiningly yours, Carol


  1. Excellent post Carol. Seems to me there is always the give an inch and the government takes a mile...or 20! We never can seem to find a balance between HOW MUCH information we need to cull to be safe, or even WHAT that information needs to be extracted. I can't help but believe that some of this leans heavily on our new "political correctness" and the push-back against profiling, when in many cases profiling is certainly warranted. Great post! Well done and beautifully said!

  2. Perfectly said! You brought up a few things I didn't know, too. Seems to me like we are, as a nation, becoming a little Orwellian. Rather scary.

  3. Hi Carol, once again I very much enjoyed your post, but I need to correct you on one thing. The United States is not a Democracy, but a Republic. "....and to the republic for which it stands...." Keep making me smile.