It’s so amazing how our past experiences shape who we are. While my career as a journalist, can be summarized by a summer beat reporter position and periodic freelance assignments, I still remember my early experiences that shaped my journalism training. One of my favorite projects was a semester-long assignment in one of my upper level journalism courses where each student in the class was assigned to a different city in Miami-Dade County. My city was El Portal, which I had never even heard of prior to that class. We each had to pick a random house in our assigned city and find out as much as we could about the homeowner based solely on public records. It’s amazing how so much of what we assume to be our private affairs is actually public record. Driver’s License, marriage/divorce licenses/certificates, death/birth certificates and property tax information are all public records. Now, I must state that my assignment was prior to the frequent availability of online public access websites.  Back then, there was an awful lot of leg work involved.  I actually had to know which jurisdiction my city belonged.  I needed to know where to look. Today, I could probably have access to someone in Juno, Alaska.  Now, you just need to know how to turn on a computer (or in some cases, use a phone). That brings me to today’s topic—privacy.

One of my favorite books of all-time is 1984. George Orwell’s classic, which was published in 1948, was far advanced for its time. For anyone who has ever read the book, it is a foreshadowing of modern society. Big brother is watching. Both in the book and today’s culture, there is no assumption of privacy. Just type in anyone’s name into an Internet query, and you could find out almost everything there is to know about them, AND their families. While I can understand the argument that the government requires access to gathered information to maintain the safety of its citizens and the Republic. I cannot understand why the average citizen should have access to that information. The argument of personal, individual safety is invalid. It’s also reflective of our entitlement generation—we have a right to (fill in the blank). Such thinking is actually dangerous. Whenever a society has more rights than responsibility, disaster is eminent. More often, I think the access to “public” information places private citizens in danger. Today’s carte blanche access to “public” information places personal information in nefarious hands. For example, a potential stalker/killer now has unlimited access to his prey. While I don’t have any statistics, and I have only seen one Lifetime movie to support what I am about to say, however, I would be willing to bet the farm that access to personal information provided by Internet search companies have played a contributory role in individuals’ demise and death.

 

I have often wondered how come there isn’t a public outcry, or better yet, a governmental crackdown on these Internet search companies. Maybe there is a slippery slope of greasy palms that impedes efficacious regulation. Maybe we are so distracted “selling” our information ourselves on Facebook and Instagram. Again, we started this discussion by stating that governmental access to “public” information is for the safety of the Republic. But how safe is the Republic when even our enemies have access to our territory and our citizens?