Doug Patton: Surrendering privacy from the cradle to the grave
"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."
— Amendment IV, U.S. Constitution
When I started Kindergarten in the fall of 1953, the administration of public schools was mostly a local matter. Other than a record of my birth five years earlier, little had probably been recorded about me at the state or federal level.
In 1964, when I was a sophomore in high school, several key events put me on the state and federal radar screen. Like all sixteen-year-olds, I got my driver’s license, which was followed in short order by the purchase of my first car, which, of course, also had to be registered with the state.
That year I also secured my first paying job. The federal government immediately issued me a card with my very own nine-digit number on it. I was assured that it was not for identification purposes. It even said so right on the card. Soon, another branch of the 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.
In 1968, I decided to work for a semester and try to figure out what I really wanted to do with the rest of my life. Soon, Uncle Sam decided to help me with the decision. The letter stated that I had until April 3, 1969, 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 federal file on myself. During that time, my wife and I were married. Another file, at all levels.
Honorably discharged in 1973, 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 government at every level. When we declared our children on our first itemized income tax return, we were required to accept a nine-digit number for each of them as well.
As our finances became more sophisticated, we had to document all of our expenses for the IRS. The amount we give to charity is known. So is the kind of car I drove for business last year and how many miles I put on it. Of course, that was no secret, since it had to be licensed to be legal.
The government knows at least as much about my property as I do. They have all the information on my home, including its value, which they determine in order to charge me a fee called property taxes for the privilege of living there.
They know my race, gender, age, health problems, where I was born, where I live now, and, unfortunately, how many guns I own.
They know which church I attend, what candidates I support and how many credit cards I carry. Several years ago, when Bill Clinton was president and I was a state leader in the Christian Coalition, I suspect that an FBI file with my name on it was among those illegally stored on White House computers.
They even know which library books I’m reading.
This week, as I celebrate another "Independence Day," I must deal with the reality that even my cell phone records, email messages and Internet searches are subject to scrutiny by these people. After all the privacy I have forfeited in the last sixty years, you wouldn’t think that it would bother me anymore, would you? Well, it does.
Doug Patton can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org