Privacy, please

By the

February 1, 2001

Thanks to Georgetown …

I have a brand new credit card from MBNA. It looks pretty nice; it has a picture of Georgetown, the Visa logo and most of my name. Even the credit limit seems nice.

Thanks to Georgetown …

MBNA knows all sorts of things about me that I didn’t tell them.

(I’m going to assume that MBNA doesn’t have my personal info just lying around; and, as far as I can tell, Georgetown gave it to them. I mean, it is a picture of Healy Tower on my card.)

I can still remember when the card salesman called and said something fast about Georgetown and MBNA and started asking me to confirm some necessary information. I told him that I wasn’t going to tell him my address, Social Security number or my mom’s maiden name over the phone.

After all, how do I know he isn’t some random dude with a Georgetown phone book trying to open a credit card in my name? I could use a credit card, but what’s stopping some shady dude in Harbin from taking his phone book, calling a few hundred random students and asking them for their Social Security numbers and mothers’ maiden names? Suddenly, shady dude is rolling in other people’s credit.

He said they’d send me the credit card anyway. I said OK.

(I knew something was up since you can’t exactly do a credit check without a Social Security number.)

Then when I called to confirm that I wanted the credit card activated, I discovered what I suspected: They already knew the answer to all those questions that I had refused to answer when they sold me the card. In order to have my card activated, I had to tell them my mom’s maiden name as a security check. So I gave them the answer and they said, “Your card works now.”

Really, I’m fine with having the credit card and I’d have had to tell “them” my Social Security number sometime anyway, but it really makes me mad that Georgetown did it without my permission.

Privacy is a sensitive issue for me.

Maybe I’m naive, but it seems reasonable to expect a university that goes to such great lengths to not tell its students and press crucial things, such as the name of the student who killed David Shick, to understand the value of privacy. Well, what’s privacy next to a few dollars anyway?

My personal information has been compromised. At least I got a credit card out of it, which gives those MBNA Career Center people some incentive to treat me nicely. Of course, $120,000 in tuition should give Georgetown the same incentive.

That’s my story on privacy.

Privacy is something we can all relate to, yet I don’t understand how little most Americans seem to care about it.

In Europe, the concept of privacy protection is real. Here, any substantial protection can’t even get press coverage, let alone escape from the congressional committees dominated by the same corporate interests that love selling each other personal information.

Lack of concern is all over the place: On campus, we praise having more security cameras. In the political world, privacy is a tool, not a value.

The ultimate example of this lack of concern for privacy is the way people talk about abortion. Al Gore is one of the primary culprits here.

During the campaign, Gore criticized George W. Bush’s support for strict constructionism because it threatened the right to abortion, or a women’s right to choose, as Gore likes to say.

(Side note: I am pro-choice if you consider bias relevant. However, I am pro-choice because of the right to privacy.)

Put simply: Abortion is contingent on privacy; not the other way around. Privacy is the primary value here. During his run for the presidency, Gore sounded like he thought privacy was valuable only because it guaranteed the right to an abortion, which just doesn’t make sense.

It frustrates me that it’s politically easier to support the right to choose a medical procedure than to support the right to privacy?

Privacy should come first. Why couldn’t anyone on either side say that strict constructionism is bad because it invalidates the right to privacy.

Legally speaking, privacy comes first because that is how the Supreme Court structured its decision in Roe v. Wade. Philosophically speaking, abortion, an action, isn’t on the same level with privacy, a value. Just try telling yourself that abortion is a value and not an action. It isn’t.

Keeping abortion legal is important only because a person (in this case only women) should have an extremely high degree of control over their ability to procreate. I mean, think about it in reverse. Without a right to privacy that includes reproduction, you can philosophically justify mandatory abortion or, more generically, state-required limits on reproduction.

Everyone should be in favor of privacy as a primary value.

I want a right to privacy and no one else seems to care. The “liberal” presidential candidate sees it as secondary to the right to abortion. Georgetown, though I’m probably misunderstanding it, cares about privacy only when there’s no money to be made and when it protects the school’s “reputation.”

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