My Quiet Life My Quiet Life

Dean and privacy

A friend passed a link along with a quote from this article at news.com.com entitled “Dean should come clean on privacy”:

It’s difficult to reconcile Dean’s current statements with his recent support–less than two years ago–for what amounts to a national ID card and a likely reduction in Americans’ privacy. “Privacy is the new urban myth,” Dean said in that March 2002 speech.

While reading this quote, my knee-jerk spidey-sense kicked in. Seeing as how he’s a Democrat, and he’s being quoted, I figured it was probably out of context. It was. Surprise! I found a copy of the speech. Here’s the quote in question with a bit more context:

I understand that you will be discussing privacy issues at a later workshop in this
important conference -– but let’s take a moment to look at privacy in America today.

In many ways, privacy is the new urban myth.

Your credit card company knows every flight you’ve taken; they know your rental car, your hotel, the movies you watched, and where you had breakfast. Credit card companies have a stake in knowing everything about you because it’s a marketer’s dream. The information for sale regarding your private life is detailed – and lucrative.

What he’s saying, here, is that privacy is endangered in this country to begin with. The quote taken is from a passage where he’s describing the present state of privacy in this country, that his proposed smartcard ID initiative would fix. You can take issue with that stance, itself, but misrepresenting his quote is typically deplorable, because he makes it pretty clear in the speech where he stands on that issue:

We will not, and should not, tolerate a call to erode privacy even further -– far from it. Americans can only be assured that their personal identity and information are safe and protected when they are able to gain more control over this information and its use.

I do think, though, that his idea is questionable at best. He makes the case that technology gives us the tools to put the power and control of our personal information back in our hands, rather than the credit companies. I think this is absolutely true. But I see no reason why such a system would require vested trust in the government (state or federal), which is where the danger of corruption becomes a concern. I think a similar comparison is the difference between various hypothetical proposed voting systems utilizing technology (for example, this one) and the state of current black box voting in this country.

Dean seems to earnestly believe that lack of privacy is a problem in this country, contrary to how this article represents him. The problem is that he poses as the only alternative a government-sponsored (state-sponsored, to be specific) smartcard ID. He could be posing this false dichotomy either out of willfull malevolence or just genuine cluelessness. Given that he’s a politician, I am assuming it’s a little from column A and a little from column B.