How is your private data getting used?

I read the Red Tape Chronicles over at MSNBC on a regular basis, and one of their latest posts really struck a chord with me. We really have become a nation where everything gets tracked, whether we like it or not. To some extent, I don’t really care. If the government wants to tap into my phone calls, fine. Been there, done that. I grew up in communist Romania, and our phone was tapped. There’s nothing of real interest to strangers in my phone calls anyway. And besides, you’d have to be a sort of a peeping tom to want to listen in on strangers’ conversations, anyway. Not my type of job.

What really irks me is that every little footstep off the beaten path gets documented somewhere. Not that it’s happened to me, but say I get in a brawl and get locked up overnight, then sort things out in the morning. That little brush with the law may affect me for years to come, even though that’s not the type of person I am. I may regret it, I may not usually do those things, it may be that it just sort of happened, but it’s going to stay on my record. And the payback’s brutal. I may not get new jobs, and if I want to attend classes at some school, I may not be able to get in. It may even affect my credit history. It’s all because of a stupid system that tracks one’s every legal move with no discernment.

This whole mess wouldn’t be a bad thing if there were only one system, and updates to that system were handled properly. But no, there are hundreds and thousands of various government databases, and data from those databases flows into private background check databases and clearinghouses, until there are copies of that single incident all over the place. I may be able to get the government to edit out that little troublesome incident, but there’s no way to track down all of the other digital copies of that record and make sure they get changed. That’s VERY disturbing.

Just do a search on Google for background checks. There are a ton of websites where you can check details about anyone. It used to be that only law enforcement officials were able to conduct such searches, but now any Joe Blow with a credit card can find out information about anyone. That really gets my goose! What right does some freak somewhere have to know stuff about me? Exactly how have our public officials let this happen? You can find out anything: properties, debts, criminal record, demographic information and possibly income, address, phone number, marriage and birth information, anything. I find this VERY DISTURBING.

What’s worse, who knows where these businesses get their data from, and how often they update their information? Looks to me like most are fly-by-nite operations that only care about having a record about someone, not the record. If they list bad information about me, how do I go about changing it? I can’t possibly contact every single one of these shady operations. Yeah, I call them shady, because I think they have absolutely no right to my private information. Only licensed law enforcement officials (read certified and cleared government employees) ought to have the right to view my aggregated private information. Yet these people profit from MY private information by selling it to whoever wants to get it. This disgusts and angers me.

Anyway, what got me started down this warpath? Those of you who know me know that I like old movies. Remember scenes from those movies where people would get into brawls, or there’d be some misunderstanding, and they’d get booked? They’d spend the night in jail, get out in the morning, and be done with it. Everyone would laugh about it. That’s how it should be for the occasional offense. It should NOT affect one’s career, education and finances. Everyone messes up here and there. These mistakes should not be recorded for posterity, or if they are, they should not be made available to every idiot that wants to look at them. It just isn’t right. And no, I’m not talking about serious or repeat offences.

We may have modernized our data storage and retrieval, but we’ve lost our good, old common sense about how to use it.