Monthly Archives: December 2016

What they Know About You

The amount of data stored on each of us has soared dramatically in recent years. It is estimated that between government and corporate information centers as many as fifty files are kept on each and every one of us. The US government maintains computer tabs in excess of 500 billion files, files which concern citizens, residents and even foreigners. Records arealso maintained by private credit bureaus, state and local governments, the census, the military, insurance companies, employment agencies, doctors, car dealers, banks and financial institutions, clubs and organizations, churches, brokerage houses and investment funds and of course by who ever is in charge of extracting taxes from you. The types of records maintained include:

•    motor vehicle licenses and registrations
•    professional licenses
•    federal, state and local tax returns
•    school records
•    birth, marriage and death certificates
•    military and veteran records
•    police records
•    criminal records
•    court documents
•    deeds
•    passport applications
•    census forms
•    medical histories
•    insurance applications
•    credit applications

In short, a host of information concerning you, including detailed financial information, is stored where you have absolutely no control over it.
Even in the so called private sector, privacy has become virtually nonexistent. A recent survey showed that almost half of the top 500 companies in the US collect data on their employees without telling them. Eighty per cent of American workers in the telecommunications, banking and insurance industries are monitored in some way while they are working.

Even if you don’t work for your bank, expect that it is probably compiling information about you for marketing purposes. Also expect it to frequently make use of such information to your disadvantage. American Express recently suspended a cardholder’s “privileges” after sneaking a peak into his bank account, without his knowledge or permission. They discovered that he did not have enough money in his account to cover his next bill, but did not bother to check if he had other sources of revenue. In other words, they cut off his credit before they even billed him.
Under modern law, creditors or litigants or private detectives are often given the right to find out how much money you have in the bank. With little effort, a private investigator can uncover your entire financial situation and expose you in an embarrassing lawsuit. Overall, financial transactions are increasingly subjected to careful scrutiny. Every time you cash a check, apply for credit, purchase an insurance policy, seek employment or attempt to enter a facility with controlled access, you are asked to provide information regarding your personal money matters. Furthermore, the courts repeatedly find that once such information is not actually in your possession, it is not protected legally from outside interference. In effect, you have little or no legal right over the collection, exchange or control of such information concerning you.

Completing the Picture

Finally, consider the information that can be amassed about you from your phone records. One need not even listen in, although such a possibility should never be ruled out, to receive an abundance of information on you and your daily activities. Who do you call and how long do you talk for? Do you have any friends or associates overseas or out of state? All such information has been neatly compiled by your local phone company and is there for the asking, or the taking.

Not to mention the fact that your phone number is a direct link to you. Have you ever heard of a reverse phone number directory? With just the few digits of your home phone number, anyone can uncover a wealth of information, ranging from your current address to the amount of your outstanding mortgage. Perhaps you should think a bit more carefully the next time a casual acquaintance asks for your home phone number.
Similarly, you may want to think more carefully about what you throw away. Once your garbage is on the street it’s public property, meaning that anyone who wants to sift through it can compile an intricate picture of your daily lifestyle, everything from your favorite ice cream to the type and sort of credit cards that you carry. If you are serious about your quest for financial privacy, think very seriously about what you throw out and who might be able to intercept it.

Your Banking Profile

Few people seem to realize that many of their everyday activities help others invade their financial privacy on a systematic basis. If your require proof, just review the last few monthly statements you received for your checking account. Almost anything one would care to find about you is inscribed in those hallowed pages. Have you made any recent contributions to a religious or political organization? Perhaps one that is slightly controversial? Your cancelled check is now a permanent record broadcasting your belief system to any who care to listen.

When was the last time you paid your rent or mortgage? Not only does your checking account tell all and sundry how much this payment cost you, meaning they can form a rough picture of your overall net worth, but it also forms a direct path to your front door for any who may care to pay you an unwanted visit.
Have you visited the doctor lately? Perhaps you suffer from high blood pressure or have a weak heart? Well, the amount and pattern of your payments again paints a picture that is clear as day for even the most incompetent of private investigators, a picture of information that really need only concern you and your doctor.

Consider what else your checking account may reveal about you. There it is in black and white, almost anything anyone may care to know about you: the type of insurance you carry, your upcoming travel plans, your favorite restaurants and shops, not to mention the names of your friends and business associates. Furthermore, any holes that may exist in this source can be quickly plugged when combined with your credit card records. With this combined information, one can easily form an overall picture of your character and personality. Almost any information needed is recorded routinely and permanently on bits of paper and silicon chips in offices around the world, locations over which you have absolutely no control.

The Lay of the Land

You’re alone on a dusty desert road. You’ve just run out of water. A hot sun bakes down on you relentlessly from above. Your mouth is dry and you wonder how long you’ll be able to keep it up. The nearest town is a mirage on the horizon, ten miles away. It will be a long walk. You may not make it.
In one hand, you have your car keys. Your car is parked right next to you. It’s a beauty. It works, is full of gas and everything about it runs like a dream, even the air conditioning. There is just one problem. The year is 2008 and eco-wackos have taken over this particular stretch of the desert. They don’t like technology, they don’t like money, and they don’t like cars. They haven’t outlawed cars completely, that would be inconvenient, for they use cars a lot themselves. They realize that without them the world would come to a halt. Nonetheless, for all realistic purposes, cars have been banned. You can only drive one if you fill out a form in advance. Gasoline can only be purchased if you state your purpose on yet another special form. Private ownership of cars has not been made illegal, but the local media still runs headline stories about so called eco-criminals. As a result, most cars are kept at home, hidden in the garage. When people venture out, they do so on foot.
Here’s the choice you are facing:
Do you hop in your car and zip into town like a breeze? Or do you start the ten mile walk on foot, with no water and only the baking sun for a companion? If you walk, you may not make it. If you drive, the townspeople may label you a criminal because these days anybody driving a car is said to be a bad guy, or so government propaganda would lead us all to believe.

If you think this little tale borders on the absurd, consider what Tom Paine would think of today’s regulatory environment were he, by some wonderful time capsule, to arrive at a western financial institution. Tom Paine would want to start a second American revolution immediately if he ever heard of Currency Transaction Reports. Thomas Jefferson would join him before he could comply with the IRS reporting requirements and file a form 8300. And Benjamin Franklin would first demand that his face be removed from the hundred dollar bill and then lecture far and wide on the civil liberties of free men and women, on their inalienable right to handle their money in whatever way they see fit, free from outside interference.
To the founding fathers, the fact that people today can no longer freely do what they want with their money would sound as outlandish as our 2008 eco-wacko story sounds to you. Still, there is a continuing trend in developed countries throughout the world to deny
everyone the basic right to financial privacy. In our modern world, almost any undesirable, with very little effort, whether a government tax inspector, a disgruntled business partner or greedy ex-spouse, can form an all too clear picture of your financial affairs. This information can in turn lead to an even more detailed sketch of your personal life, your loves and habits, perhaps even a vice or two you would rather keep private.