Federal Agencies and the Myth of Your Privacy (It's Long Past 1984 and Big Brother Is Watching You More Closely Than Ever)

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by Steven Yates

Who owns your personal financial information? Is it yours, or does it belong to the Washington Empire? In a free society, of course, how you earn your living, how much you earn, who you do business with, who you hire, and so on and so on, is between you, your conscience and your God, and doesn't involve any political / bureaucratic parasites. But it would be naïve to pretend that we live in a free society. We live in a society controlled and micromanaged by a web of regulatory forces and pressures so intricate that they permeate our surroundings like nitrogen in the air. Most of the American population, "educated" in government schools, has never studied the Constitution in depth and accepts this as normal. But there is abundant evidence that your financial life is not your own today, and hasn't been for some time. It, along with much else about you, is monitored closely by a Big Brother who doesn't want any of us serfs earning dollars that aren't reported to our federal masters in the District of Columbia.

What occasioned these remarks was something I received by snail-mail last weekend: a missive from the Social Security Administration. What it contained was a statement of my entire reported earnings – going all the way back to my very first job, retrieving shopping carts for a Treasure Island (a now-defunct superstore chain) when I was 16. Line by line, year by year, the form laid out my annual-earnings like a spy or ghost that had been hovering over me like an unseen shadow all my life, recording everything.

It was vaguely alarming that a federal agency had amassed this kind of information on me – in that level of detail – supposedly for the mere purpose of helping determine how much Social Security I will be entitled to when I reach retirement age. (The bureaucrats assume uncritically that the Social Security system will last that long – but that is a different article.) To be sure, this missive from the Social Security Administration wasn't an audit, courtesy of the Internal Revenue Service. There was nothing overtly threatening about it, no indication that I need to do anything except check for inaccuracies (i.e., income not reported to and tallied up by our federal masters). If I found none, I could simply file the form with the rest of my records.

But I still felt a quaver of worry: a sensation that comes almost instinctively to any thinking person who receives anything from a federal agency these days. I recognized it for what it was and my next thought was of Thomas Jefferson's famous remark that "when the government fears the people there is liberty, and when the people fear the government there is tyranny." Need I say more? Many people today fear the federal colossus. And reasonably so. There are so many laws and regulations on the books that one person has no hoping of even knowing them all, much less understanding them all, much less obeying them all. Bureaucrats can nail you on dozen of things – if they want to. For the most part, moreover, the majority of lawyers – graduates of today's politically correct law schools – are as conditioned as much of the public accept the reach of the federal colossus into every aspect of our lives. Therefore, challenging federal agencies by working within the system, or just defending yourself from bureaucratic harassment, is a risky business that offers no guarantees. Nor can you count on the major media, which simply report the government's point of view. The plain truth is, we would-be law-abiding serfs have few defenses against our federal masters, should we decide to act as if the Constitution still mattered.

There is plenty of evidence afoot — most of it on the Internet — that the federal colossus has been amassing information on you for years. Some of this information has to do with financial records of the sort I discussed above; some of it has to do with your personal health information, and some of it with your employment history. Consider the third. During the late 1990s, the federal colossus set up a huge employee database — supposedly to catch illegal immigrants (a joke, if there ever was one). The measure was in a little-known clause in the so-called Welfare Reform Act (PL 104-193). Everyone hired to work at any legal job whatsoever found himself having to fill out new Immigration and Naturalization Service forms. This is called legislating by stealth — or to use author Claire Wolfe's designation, land mine legislation. Land mine legislation comes buried in huge, omnibus bills ostensibly dealing with different subjects, often inserted at the last minute, with no discussion on the floors of either the House or the Senate, and no reportage by any national or local media. We have seen enough instances of this, going all the way back to civil forfeiture laws that came about by stealth in the 1970s, to know that if full-fledged, open tyranny ever comes to America (with an internationalist army in the streets, concentration camps for dissidents and all that) it will have done so by stealth.

The driver's license is an important instrument of acquiring information by hidden means. A couple of years ago here in South Carolina there was a flap over a small, New Hampshire-based technology company called Image Data that had purchased our photographs and information from our drivers licenses from the state without our knowledge or permission. Many South Carolinians became both alarmed and incensed as, slowly, through a sequence of revelations, it turned out that Image Data had been the recipient of a federal grant totaling almost $1.5 million, and that this, too, had been concealed from the public. This grant had enabled the company to develop its technology and create a database of names and photos. Supposedly, the purpose of this database was to fight identity fraud, and there were reasons to think Image Data's own personnel believed this. A public hearing was held, with the CEO of Image Data present. What he did was provide a demonstration of how the technology was to work. He did not strike me as a bad sort; an engineer by both training and disposition, he was very knowledgeable about his own bailiwick but naïve about how politicians and bureaucrats operate. As the saying goes, for every administrative decision there is the official reason and then there is the real reason. The federal colossus, as I pointed out at the time, does not simply give money to previously unknown, high-tech start-ups without expecting something in return. What we had concluded, of course, was that this was a golden opportunity for the federal colossus to gain access to personal information it had no Constitutional authorization to obtain. I spoke for perhaps 20 minutes and tried to put the Image Data flap in its context, educating the audience (which included several upper-echelon Department of Public Safety and Department of Transportation personnel) about both the existence and dangers of stealth legislation. I ended with a plea for a return to the Constitution. My plea fell on deaf ears; the following day, what was reported in the local media was a minor aside I had made about databases being vulnerable to hackers.

The upshot of all this is that arguments about a "right to privacy," Constitutional or otherwise, are decades behind the times. The federal colossus has been gathering information on you for years. Private corporations are more than willing to assist, if the price is right. Given the form I received, the information gathering goes back at least to my years as a teenager in the 1970s, and no one really believes it started then. One could argue credibly that federal control over money and finances goes back to 1913, the year the Federal Reserve Act was passed. This Act unconstitutionally authorized a private corporation, the Federal Reserve, to control of the money supply and, working in close partnership with the central government, micromanage the U.S. economy. Between this and the creation of the Internal Revenue Service following the 16th Amendment (which an increasing number of people are claiming was never legally ratified), the central government had set up the basic machinery it needed to begin monitoring every working person's finances. One of its key advantages the federal colossus of today has is that the number of people old enough to remember a time when things were different is now negligible. Moreover, with the brainwashing of much of the public through the government schools and the infotainment industry, it is easy to dismiss critics of expansionist government reflexively as "right-wing extremists" or simply as "kooks." And so the information gathering continues. During the 1990s, it accelerated at a frightening pace. While the politicians and media were all crowing about how great the economy supposedly was and tallying up "surpluses" that didn't exist, the potential for information-based tyranny was being laid in place.

We citizens have at our disposal one very formidable weapon, however. That, of course, is the Internet. It was over the Internet that I first learned of stealth legislation. Email has proven to be a very cost-effective means of distributing information quickly to a lot of people. Email-based and Internet-based campaigns were successful in fighting, for example, the so-called Know Your Customer program that large banks attempted to institute nationwide in the mid to late 1990s. This was an effort by banks (acting, of course, in compliance with federal directives) to amass financial information on everyone they did business with. The electronic equivalent of a mass protest erupted. Banks were deluged with hundreds of thousands of emails and petitions. Naturally, they feared losing customers, as every business must, and the program was scrapped. The electronic grass-roots protest is capable of being very effective. (The Image Data effort, lest I forget, was also stopped – although lawsuits and countersuits are still pending.)

But winning a battle here and there does not mean winning the war. I've no doubt that behind the scenes are operators who would love to get their grubby paws on the Internet. The Internet is the great decentralizer, informationwise. Almost anyone can learn to send and receive email. Putting up a website is not that difficult. Both make communication possible between people and organizations that otherwise would never have heard of one another. The Internet will play a major role in the building of alliances in the years to come. Whether we can beat back the federal colossus remains to be seen. What is clear is that we have nothing to lose by trying. We may find ourselves talking to a bureaucratic wall, and then have to talk to each other seriously about secession from the Washington Empire. Some are talking about that now. It would be a huge step, and I've no idea how it would be accomplished peacefully. But it might be necessary, and it will require enormous sacrifices. Some of us have already sacrificed careers. The signers of the Declaration of Independence sacrificed a good deal more than this, though, and with far fewer resources.

Steven Yates [send him mail] has a Ph.D. in Philosophy and is the author of Civil Wrongs: What Went Wrong With Affirmative Action. He is presently compiling selected essays into a single volume tentatively entitled What Is Wrong With the New World Order and Other Essays and Commentary and a work on a second book, The Paradox of Liberty. He also writes for the Edgefield Journal, and is available for lectures. He lives in Columbia, South Carolina, and is starting his own freelance writing business, Millennium 3 Communications.

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