Monday, August 30, 2010

Privacy Rights

Do you have a right to privacy? That depends on if you are a member of a protected group or if the government wants information you consider private. You might be surprised at what is now regarded as information that should be available, at least to government employees.

Did you think your child's every move should be tracked? I thought not, but both the federal and California governments disagree with you. According to the Silicon Valley Mercury News Online, preschoolers in Contra Costa County are going to be wearing radio tracking devices while at school. They will be tracked everywhere they go, class, play area, cafeteria, even the bathroom. Big Brother will be watching. Can any thinking person believe such tracking will stop with preschoolers?

Other government proposals are also invasive. Some states are proposing to equip all cars with GPS tracking devices. Their excuse is that they will use the information to determine how many miles the car travels and use that to send a tax bill to fund roads. If you believe it will stop there I'm sure you will be interested in a good deal on this bridge in Brooklyn I've heard about. The fact is that we already have a good way to tax vehicles. It's called the fuel tax. Fuel consumption is closely related to distance driven and vehicle weight so fuel taxes are nearly proportional to the wear and tear each vehicle causes on the roads. In fact heavy trucks often pay a weight-mile tax.

Of course electric vehicles avoid the fuel tax, but the solution is still quite simple and need not involve GPS tracking. Every car is equipped with an odometer that records miles driven. It would be easy to tax electric vehicles based on odometer reading.

It is clear that many want to increase how much government can know about our private lives. That is one side of the coin but there is another side.

What if you know something that might be useful to someone? For example you know that an EMT responding to an accident was exposed to hepatitis. Would you tell him? You better not, at least if you are in the medical profession. That would violate HIPAA, the Health Insurance Privacy and Accountability Act. If a hospital discovers that a patient has a communicable disease it is prohibited from telling anyone about it without specific permission. That makes sense in some cases; you don't want your private information becoming public (though it is questionable from a first amendment standpoint). However it makes no sense to not give that information to those who might need it. If a patient has hepatitis and someone has been exposed, that someone should have a right to know about it.

This can be taken to ridiculous extremes. A while back a man with amnesia was in a Portland hospital. He could not remember his name or any other identifying characteristics. Nobody knew who he was. Simple solution, just put his picture in news so friends or relatives could see it. Simple but illegal, HIPAA prohibited that.

There is an even worse use of privacy laws. Too often they are used to protect the guilty, especially government employees. A misbehaving school teacher may have his identity protected or a government agency may be prohibited from responding to public charges to protect the privacy of the accuser. Let's get real; if the accuser goes public, the accused has a right to do so as well. Of course this prohibition cuts both ways. Sometimes it prohibits the accused from giving a good public response. However I fear that it often serves to help the accused hide misbehavior which ought to be public.

Our privacy laws need a serious rethinking. That should be done from the point of view of wisdom, not what government officials want.


Robin said...

and that's a ridiculous idea as far as tracking the students... but that goes along with the push to have all children "chipped" in case somebody kidnap them.

how much freedom are you willing to give up for the illusion of feeling safe?

and as far as placing GPS in cars, Oregon is already considering that.

Bobkatt said...

Privacy, what's that? I'm sure you are familiar with the current 9th Circuit Court ruling that the police have the right to secretly attach a GPS device on a vehicle without a warrant if that vehicle is in the suspects driveway because they claim the driveway is actually public property. Of course this only applies to those that are not fortunate enough to have a garage to park in or a fence around their property.
The government seems to think that contrary to the Constitution they have a mandate to userp the maximum amount of control on the people. That is their answer to every situation. We have a terrorist attack and their answer is to make air travel as inconvienient as possible with full body searches and to tap phone calls and emails. We have a food contamination problem and their answer is to chip every farm animal. I'm not exagerating.
The only redeeming factor is that the more the government clamps down that more people become aware of their overreach and we have the physical manifestations of the Tea Parties and the increase of the Independant voters. Many people don't even know why they are so dissatisfied with current events but are opening their eyes to the futility of voting for the status quo.