March 27, 2008

Passport Debacle Raises Concerns

I'm not a conspiracy theorist sort of person. I don't think everything the government does smacks of "Big Brotherism." But I am concerned about what happens to all of that "private information" we give up on a regular basis on a host of forms for different reasons.

It seems as if all too frequently that there is a story about some company having to send letters to customers because there was a breech in the company's security and personal information, like credit card information or social security numbers could have been stolen.

I get pretty teed off when I read that stuff. But then a story comes along like the one about contract employees at the State Department illegally reviewing the passports of all three presidential candidates and I get even more spooked.

In case you missed it, at least four State Department workers pried into the supposedly secure passport files of presidential contenders Hillary Rodham Clinton, Barack Obama and John McCain. Condoleezza Rice has promised a full investigation and telephoned the candidates to apologize personally.

Is nothing safe any more? Can any $7 an hour employee have access to our most private information?


Larry S said...

Yeah, I don't think any of us are immune from this type of snooping. Pretty much anything and everything about anyone can be found somewhere.

Apparently not everything about technology is as great as it's cracked up to be. Say goodbye to privacy.

Fat Tony said...

You know, mistakes are one thing when a company "loses" your personal information. But when people start using this stuff for political spying then we are entering a brave new world.

This national incident on passports is very similar to when Niagara County Dem Boss Dan Rivera used his position as an insurance investigator at Liberty Mutual to dig up dirt on political opponents.

The punishment for this kind of snooping should be severe.

Fawn Leibowitz said...

I think the invasions of our privacy are much more pervasive than people think. I have a friend who works in a bank and she regularly will look up the balances of people she knows simply for shits and giggles. Her friends, her neighbors, whoever she feels like, she looks up. Pretty disturbing.

Pete M said...

Rivera was fired for his use of company assets for political reasons, which I think is pretty severe. Do you think the punishment should have been more, Tony?

Fat Tony said...

Not necessarily in that instance. Rivera's issue was probably more stupid than viscious. But going forward, given this passport stuff, I would think attaching criminal penalities to accessing people's private information for malicious reasons would be appropriate.

Mr. Pink said...

This is one of those topics where I'd like to see our resident libertarian, Larry Castellini weigh in.

Personally, I find this very disturbing and Ms. Rice's apology rings hollow to me.

Larry Castellani said...

Firstly, again, I’m not a Libertarian, thank you. Libertarians have no social theory and conceive of the individual too abstractly attributing rights and responsibilities that fail to take into account the social history of such rights, etc. Much like Thomas Hobbes failed to do in The Leviathan. So we stay stuck in a Liberal Democratic alienated egoist theory of optimum individuality. Democracy gets displaced to the institutions and loses sights of its legitimating social base. Etc., etc. etc. etc.

All I’ve got to say is that in this case privacy issues are a function of the politics of domination, assassination and exclusion. Surely privacy is and can be an issue in and of itself. But short of a bureaucratically over-centralized government that thinks it has the right and responsibility to constitute and regulate cultural life and short of a “republicanism” that mistakes hegemonic power for democratic political process, we don’t have the same problem.

But since we are over-centralized, the bureaucrats, especially of rabid right-wing Christian persuasion, need to know our habits to better control the heathens and pagans; and the corporate surrogates, so-called representatives and senators, need as much of the same ammunition to destroy their opponents. Why bother with dialogue, discourse and demonstrative discussion, when you can just annihilate someone.
Here’s where political ethics comes in versus questions of private morality apropos my post under “Rumor Mill” from March 26 below.

So it’s not a question of “big brotherism” nor of $7 an hour employees that matters. It’s a de-natured democracy that substitutes private shame, secrecy and possessiveness for the social guilt that should and could motivate a democratic participatory politics. For fear of being found out regarding their skeletons, most would never participate in the public arena. The objective social guilt that motivates political obligation is lost and confused with the subjective shame and fear.

There’s a difference also between the sanctity of my personal relations of family and friends, if not community, and the ‘privacy’ that enables people to get away with corruption. For example when major corporations such as oil is protected from public scrutiny of oil reserves and uses that to raise prices. There’s also a difference between someone stealing my “identity” for material gain and someone wanting to know about my private sex life to ruin a political career. Etc., etc. etc.

You asked for it Mr. Pink. For excruciating details regarding the above, see upcoming scintillating if not titillating posts at

Anonymous said...

I'm not sure why, but I'm having a hard time getting worked up about this. It shouldn't have happened, of course, and I would hope that Ms. Rice does more than apologize.

But, the first time any of us used electronic banking, filled out a health form, applied for a mortgage, gave out an e-mail address or indulged a curiousity about internet porn (not me, of course), some level of privacy was probably lost.

If you think about how much personal information from millions or perhaps billions of people is floating around the electronic ether, it is a wonder we don't read a thousand stories a day like this one.

dark knight said...


I agree with much of what you say but how can you ignore the tendency of liberals, especially on campus, to use social guilt as justification for silencing speech they disagree with, even if such speech is abhorrent.

And right wingers don't corner the market on bad behavior. Look at the Clinton campaign you out-of-context remarks by Senator Obama's preacher to create a montage of negativity and use that negativity to destroy Obama.

Larry Castellani said...

Dear Dark,
I hear your point. The disconnect here is that I’m making an implicit distinction between, on the one hand, social guilt as conscience, that is, what in the humanist tradition was called the sensibility of the “sensus communis,” i.e., having a sense of the good of the community as a whole, and, on the other, social guilt as neurotic guilt that can be manipulated as you indicated.

I also agree that “right wingers don’t corner the market on bad behavior.” But let’s not degenerate into the “who’s worse” game. I’ve been trying to argue for transcending the various dualisms in political language for at least 15 years, granted mostly in the classroom.

Nevertheless, my general point is that privacy is under assault primarily because the public sphere is being dissolved. A politically marginalized populace degenerates into a criminal element, underground economy, unmotivated workforce and/or, in the extreme a revolutionary force. Marginalized masses intrude upon and exploit one another’s privacy and are all intruded upon by the bureaucracies and elites in order to artificially enfranchise or, as the case may be, disenfranchise them.
If the disempowered masses were politically enfranchised through education and rehabilitating inclusiveness, etc., then the parasitic practices on the margins would be sublimated into political action and self-determination. Then the public sphere would be concretized authentically as political and communal and the private sphere would be permitted to be authentically private, i.e., properly intimate, self-reflective, creative and communally trusting and unfolding integrative and healthy values.

The “privacy” implied in Hobbes post is not really “privacy. It’s the secretive self-protectiveness of bourgeois privilege and power that’s slipping away with the travesty which is late Liberal Capitalism. This is the result of the aforementioned decay and disintegration of authentic privacy and publicity. Or so I think.

Anonymous said...

Larry Cast. says libertarians have 'no social theory'. Please elaborate on yours sweet with whores while in office is fine by you....This behavior doesnt fall into your sphere of privacy...there are some absolute wrongs in life, whoring is one of them.
Also, please never quote Hobbes' Leviathan again, that is university intro to psychology material. Isn't it time to move on and get out of the left wing's fantasy land of enlightenment?
Spend your energy attacking the religious right that you attribute the nations' 'insanly invasive big brother tactics' to. Those God-lovin' nutcases!