On Identity Theft and Privacy and Transparency and Credit...

So I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about this and I have to say that my ideas are somewhat shaped by having lived in various states in Europe for the past four years.

How exactly is it that Freedom and Privacy are so tightly intertwined here in the US?

What exactly is privacy? Privacy, or the goal of privacy, as far as I can tell is a way of protecting freedom by not allowing people to judge you based on your choices you made in life. Maybe not even choices, but essentially your life history. This is all that I can simply see it as. Anytime you hear about someone saying that they don’t want “The Government to have their information” It essentially is a Libertarian talking point in making the government as powerless as possible by tying its hands with regards to information about its citizens.

But then on the other hand we see services these days from “Life-Lock” which essentially, as far as I can tell, try to protect your identity by keeping a close check on your credit information. I mean what else could they do? Then we have the big three credit bureaus who hold all of the power. I went through a period of straightening out my credit. I had one of my Father’s cards in my name which I wanted to keep (it worked well for my credit). So I called up one of the credit reporting agencies, and she said she was taking that off. So I told her I didn’t want that and she gave me a very curious reply. It went something like, “That account wasn’t actually listed in your name, so it will not be reflected in your credit report from now on.” She made it out to be totally passive, instead of, “I took it off because it wasn’t in your name.” She then passed the buck about how I could get it back on. So I experienced the powerlessness that the average citizen has.

Essentially the big corporations are paying other people to collect data on us to determine credit-worthiness in a completely undemocratic fashion in an age where credit is needed for damn near anything. To rent a house requires good credit.

So what can we do to resolve all of this stuff? How can we stop Identity theft, and other stuff?

The idea that a SSN is some secret number that has to be guarded, and that we should completely protect this kind of data about ourselves is completely ridiculous. Why should we have to protect this information? It’s pretty easy to see that there must be some way to connect the physical human with his legal entity. I understand that a number is a good way to do that. What other recourse do we have? The only thing I could see working is some kind of physical implant that cannot be copied. However as we all know, any kind of system that can be made by humans can be deconstructed by humans. It’s pretty simple. Maybe you would implant a chip in your body that would decode your account, and to use a brute force attack would take eons. However in the future (maybe 20 years?) it might be possible, and then you’d need a new implant. Not a good solution.

The ideal way would be for everyone to know everyone by name and not need to check identity. Obviously not going to happen.

So what are our options for the future? People say that the age of computers have made it easier to steal identities. I don’t really believe that. I think the age of credit has made it so much more appealing. Back in the 50’s or 60’s you didn’t have a credit score, and you borrowed from your local bank. Your banker would have to trust you based on your character, maybe some references, etc. It was far simpler to steal an identity back in those days, but there wasn’t much of a way to get past the bank manager who will know you aren’t who you say you are.

Should the government get involved? I don’t know. I can’t really see how it would help. Again there are lots of people who are terribly afraid of the government knowing their address.

Somehow I feel that greater transparency could solve a lot of our problems in this country. One of the benefits of information technology these days is the amount of transparency that it can provide.

First I do believe that every citizen ought to be able to be made aware of his or her personal financial information at all times. You shouldn’t have to pay for it. I realize that these are private companies who are doing this, but don’t we have to realize that the whole system is at fault here? The credit bureaus are in a way enabling identity theft by boiling down the decision-making process to a single number. And maybe this isn’t exactly transparency, but what if we were to make it so that an individual’s credit was a “fail-safe” system. Currently you have to call in and make a big stink with three different agencies to put a freeze on your credit. It should be the opposite but with less hassle.

When you are born your line of credit is frozen until you turn 18. At which point you have to authorize every line of credit you open unless you for some reason have to have it the way it is now. I can’t imagine people needing to continually open new credit card accounts. I feel that if your current credit card gets stolen, the mechanisms in place now work fine. I think the real problem is when someone opens an account in your name and you never get a bill.

So in that way we could walk around and not be so secretive of our SSN because we’d know that there is no way anyone could get a loan or a credit card with your information. I feel that these changes could be legislated into the current system. Or maybe not, because the number of “pre-approved” cards would drastically go down.

Now to get back to the transparency side of things again and back to national ID cards. What exactly is it that people are so afraid of? I’ve got zero problems with a national ID card, on the condition that it is coupled with complete transparency of what it is used for. I believe that this is the future of democracy in the 21st century.

I realize that it isn’t the best option to have the government controlling all of this information about us, but if it isn’t the government where we can possibly see it, it will be companies like ChoicePoint which essentially perform the same function with less oversight, and are free to do with the data as they wish. At least we can legislate transparency into the government.

This is simply a pattern that I’ve been seeing. You have private companies performing functions that the government needs. ChoicePoint has 17 billion records on people. In 2005 some people posed as legitimate business to obtain personal information to steal their identities. How can this be?

What is the best choice here? The government is banned from aggregating this info, so it simply outsources someone else to do so. Isn’t that a big surprise? The people entrusted with this information are under less scrutiny.

It is because of this, that I feel that our only option is transparency. Our economy is already highly dependent on the use of credit scores and credit history to allow creditors to make quick choices about who gets what. I don’t think we can stem the tide. Our personal information is already out there, and it’s available to all of the people who we didn’t want it to be in the first place. I think the only way to work with it from here on is to let the government take over and make it 100 percent transparent.

Which is why I’m for government transparency to begin with. We need to open the government up 100 percent. Even with regards to matters of national security. It’s the open marketplace of ideas. The more transparent things get, the quicker the forces of reaction will be to fix things.

Sorry it’s a bit long and winding, but I can’t really figure out a way to deal with these topics separately. I feel that they are all intertwined.

Seven years of the Bush regime, and still people are this naive about how far government can be trusted with snooping powers.

I despair for my species.

What is the alternative then? Continue to allow completely uncontrollable private entities to do it? We know even less about what they are doing.

There’s entirely too much in the OP for me to process right now, so I’ve (cherry-)picked the following out:

Of course it’s easier (more in a moment). Although I’ll certainly also agree that if there were no “age of credit”, there’d be little to no value in doing so. But the latter doesn’t negate the former.

The reason it’s easier comes down to two (related) things: (1) bookkeeping and (2) expansiveness. Computers make (1) borderline trivial. When discussing non-governmental entities, bad design accounts for (2); when discussing low-level governmental entities, both bad design and lax policy enforcement are responsible; when discussing high-level governmental entities, then I’ll agree that transparency is the issue.

Perhaps you’d be interested in the following news item, about public utility workers browsing people’s information. Or, when discussing transparency, this news item about domestic violence victims. Or, a demonstration that the devil is always in the details, the fact that the signatures of those who submitted a primary ballot in WA are publically available (and can thus be easily duplicated). Information is power. Access to personal information should be granted neither liberally nor lightly, if at all.

As to a possible mechanism for preserving (a variable, chosen degree of) privacy, take a gander at OpenID. I find it interesting to extrapolate from an online-only application to possible real world usage. One thing to note is that there is a difference between identification (mostly unnecessary) and authentication (a prevalent need in day-to-day activity).

Hopefully, I’ll get a chance to revisit the OP later and make a more well-thoughtout and substantive post.

A relatively decent opinion piece was on the ABC News front page this morning. I suppose it’s opinion because it doesn’t provide much reporting nor factual content, but is a discussion of the issues involved with age verification on social networks. ISTM that all those issues have real-world analogues, which is what makes it relevant to the discussion of privacy and transparency.

Just thought it might be of interest…