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Paul Hayden

Is Personal Privacy a Thing of the Past?

July 12, 2010

"The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized."
Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution

When I started Kindergarten in the 1950s, the administration of public schools was strictly a local matter. Other than a record of my birth five years earlier, little had probably been documented about me at the state or federal level.

A decade later, when I was a sophomore in high school, several key events put me on the government radar screen. Like all 16-year-olds, I got my driver's license, which was followed shortly thereafter by the purchase of my first car, which, of course, also had to be registered with the state.

That same year, I also secured my first paying job, bagging groceries at the neighborhood supermarket. Of course, this precipitated the issuance of a card from the feds with my very own 9-digit number on it. I was assured at the time that it was not to be used for identification purposes. It even said so right on the card. Soon, another branch of the federal government, the Internal Revenue Service, wanted to know exactly how much money I was making.

Two years later, I graduated from high school and headed off to college, with a federally guaranteed student loan and a Selective Service draft deferment. Two more files with my name on them.

After a couple of years of college, I decided to lay out for a semester to try to figure out what I really wanted to do with the rest of my life. Soon, Uncle Sam chose to help me with that decision. The letter stated that I had to choose a branch of the U.S. Armed Forces or the choice would be made for me. I chose the Air Force, thereby creating another four-year file on myself.

During that time, my wife and I were married. Another file, at all levels. Honorably discharged after four years in the Air Force, I returned to college on the G.I. Bill. Regular checks and another file, this time with the Veterans Administration.

Then came kids, car payments and a mortgage, all recorded in the annals of the government at every level. When we declared our children on our first itemized income tax return, we were required to accept a Social Security number for each of them as well never to be used for identification purposes, mind you.

As our limited finances became more sophisticated, we had to document all of our expenses for the IRS. The kind of car I drive is known, as well as how many miles I put on it every year for business. Of course, that information was no secret either, since it had to be licensed to be legal.

The government knows more about my property than I do. They have all the information on my home, including its value which they determine in order to charge me a fee for the privilege of living there. They know my race, gender, age, health problems, where I was born, where I live now and probably where I intend to be buried.

They know which church I attend, how much I donate to it and other charities, and how many credit cards I carry. Several years ago, when Bill Clinton was president and I was a state leader in a pro-family organization considered to be a part of the vast right-wing conspiracy by the felon-in-chief and his bride, I suspect that an FBI file with my name on it was among those illegally stored on White House computers.

As an active, vocal fiscal and social conservative, Barack Obama's Department of Homeland Security considers me to be a domestic terrorist. I'm sure there's a file on me in that bureau somewhere, documenting the videos I rent, the library books I read and how many guns I own.

And soon, a nosy census worker will come to my door demanding to know why I didn't answer all the questions on that unnecessarily intrusive form the government sent me.

After all the privacy I have forfeited over the years, you wouldn't think that it would bother me any more, would you? Well, it does.

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Copyright ©2010 Doug Patton

Doug Patton describes himself as a recovering political speechwriter who agrees with himself more often than not. His weekly columns are syndicated by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate. Readers are encouraged to email him at dpatton@cagle.comand/or to follow him on Twitter at @Doug_Patton.