There#039;s privacy, and then privacy

Published 12:00 am Friday, October 3, 2003

Our rights to privacy have been both rescued and assaulted anew this week, thanks to both Congress and a federal judge. Congress broke up Admiral John Poindexter's Orwellian plan to create a cybernetic super spy system that would track everything from our credit card purchases to our medical records - all in the interest of national security.

Not long after Poindexter's Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) met the destruction it deserved, Judge Edward W. Nottingham of Federal District Court in Denver decided that the recent do-not-call registry program to keep telemarketers at bay, approved by both U.S. House and Senate, was discriminatory and violated the freedom of speech for commercial companies.

To sum it up - the federal government does not have the right to pry into our private lives, but Joe Telemarketer does. Go figure.

Of course, as a member of the press, I fully support the freedom of speech. But I also believe in the sanctity of the home and private matters, whether

it's how many loans I've taken out or if I really do need vinyl siding. Everyone has the right to free speech - no one has the right to force me to listen to it. No one has the right to force me to speak. No one should have the right to invade my records without due cause. The database scanning Big Brother Poindexter was proposing was not focused on immigrants. It was not focused on tourists and travelers here or in other countries. It was focused on me. And you, and other American citizens, most of whom can claim a speeding ticket as their worst criminal violation. In Poindexter's dark world, we are all guilty until proven innocent, and he was developing software that would prove it, by golly. His scanning system could canvas petabytes in seconds -

for those of you without a computer geek at home to translate, that means his program could read the entire content of the Library of Congress about 50 times. Quickly.

Some of

DARPA's programs-in-development have been passed along to other agencies, like the Department of Homeland Security. Congress is keeping mum about who is getting what, but I hope the common sense that checked Poindexter's push into paranoia is still working. It is one thing to do quick scans of airline travelers to see if they bought anything suspicious, like, oh, box cutters or plastique, on their VISA. It is altogether something else to dig into medical records. Someone please tell me, what does my root canal have to do with airline security and international terrorism?

Congress is keeping Poindexter out of my private life, and is attempting to do the same thing with the telemarketers. Unfortunately, Federal Judge Nottingham (as in Sheriff of) is concerned about the rights of companies to free speech. These are the same companies, I hasten to add, who spend millions for a 15 second spot on the Super Bowl commercials.

Nottingham did have a good point - by excluding non-profits and politicians from the do-not-call regulations, the law was discriminatory. The obvious answer to that, and one that soothes my egalitarian soul, is - outlaw all of them. These organizations and politicians raised money before the invention of the telephone. They can do it again.

Until then, I'm doing my own research to find Nottingham's phone number. Then I'm mailing it out to every telemarketer I can find…. Free.