This may sound paranoid, but you cannot assume anything is private. When you are talking to someone on the telephone you have to assume your conversation is being monitored (ask Prince Charles if you don’t believe me). Your emails are subject to audit by your ISP and any government agency that asks for them. Every time you leave your home you are likely to be watched on security cameras and your voice is recorded every time you ring a call centre.
What really astounds me, though, is that people don’t care. They hand over all their details without turning a hair. I recently wanted to move my cell phone contract from one service provider to another. I couldn’t believe my ears when they asked for three months’ bank statements. Er, excuse me, bank statements are confidential information. Even (especially) my wife doesn’t have access to them, why should I give them to a bunch of strangers?
I am part owner of a small business and on occasion I trot around the neighbourhood putting advertising flyers in mailboxes. (Yes, I am one of those annoying people. If you don’t wish to know of the enormous benefits that could be yours for a very reasonable price were you to become one of my happy customers, all you need do is put a notice on your mailbox reading “No Junk Mail” and that will be respected, even though I don’t regard my flyers as junk.) What amazes me is that so few people secure their mailbox in any way. I see boxes stuffed with bills, credit card statements, tax assessments and so on all conveniently available for the taking by anyone who wants to steal your identity. People just don’t seem to realize that information is a valuable commodity.
And what about all those forms we have to fill in all the time if we want to get anything done? All want impertinent information. Why should I supply my date of birth in order to purchase a CD online? My policy is to leave out information that is not required, and to lie about anything that is required but not essential to the transaction. I have a second email address for “junk” transactions; my “real” email address is given only to family and friends. I use false names wherever possible (Margaret Thatcher is one of my favourites), fake phone numbers and addresses and if they come up with “This field is required” in something that really isn’t any of their business, I fill in “None of your fucking business”.
I’m seriously considering getting myself a second identity (I may steal it from you), building up a collection of false beards and moving to my own private island staffed with robots (the one Scaramanga had in the James Bond movie would be ideal) and opting out of the plexiglass world.
Grumpy Old Man by Mark Widdicombe is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.5 License.