Agencies and the Myth of Your Privacy
(Itís Long Past 1984 and Big Brother Is Watching
You More Closely Than Ever)
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 doesnít 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 hasnít been
for some time. It, along with much else about you, is monitored
closely by a Big Brother who doesnít want any of us serfs earning
dollars that arenít reported to our federal masters in the District
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.
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 wasnít 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.
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 Jeffersonís 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 todayís 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 governmentís
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.
is plenty of evidence afoot Ė most of it on the Internet Ė 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 Ė 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 Ė or to use author Claire Wolfeís
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.
driverís 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 Dataís 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.
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 personís 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 didnít exist, the potential
for information-based tyranny was being laid in place.
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.)
winning a battle here and there does not mean winning the war. Iíve
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 Iíve 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.
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.
© 2001 LewRockwell.com