by David Sisler

It was a coverup bigger than the Savings and Loan scandal, bigger than Whitewater, bigger than Watergate, and demonstrably less successful than any of those.

Before we look into the past, let's look at the present. It might be frightening.

Privacy. We want it. We guard it. We value it. And it is quickly slipping away. One of the biggest culprits undermining our privacy is technology--specifically, the computer, the modem and the Internet.

No criticism here. In my work, I use all three, almost every day.

In doing research for this column, for instance, I accessed my primary on-line service, looking for information. When a quick look was unsuccessful, I signed on to the Internet and tried an electronic newsstand where I browsed through a couple hundred magazines and newspapers, all from the comfort of my computer console. I found an article which fit the current theme, punched a couple of keys and downloaded it straight to my word processor.

I decided to do a little more research and signed on to the card catalogs of two local libraries, found three books which seemed interesting, learned that one of them was checked out and found the branch which had the other two on the shelves.

The Internet definitely makes old-fashioned research a lot easier, and a lot faster.

But this is not a primer on the Internet. We're talking about privacy and coverups. And if you are serious about protecting your privacy and you want to be sure your business stays your business, then disconnect your modem right now.

But it's probably too late already, whether or not you even own a computer.

Kiplinger's Personal Finance Magazine recently devoted its lead article to "Guarding Your Financial Privacy." Author Kristin Davis warned that "public records reside by the gigabyte in data bases open to anyone."

Beginning with the day you got your birth certificate, someone started collecting data about you. It used to be that to find our your most secret secrets, a snoop had to go to the court house, the library, the department of motor vehicles, or some other large collector of records. Not any more.

CDB Infotek of Santa Ana, California is just one company that has done the work for you. For a modest subscription fee, you can search through Infotek's thousands of public-record data bases and learn your neighbor's, your friend's or your enemy's most closely guarded secrets.

You say you're not interested. Good for you. But the bad news is, not everyone is as principled as you are.

And the invasion of privacy is not all done by unscrupulous characters. Sometimes its a bank who is wondering whether or not to loan you the money to start a new business. Sometimes its an employer wanting to know more about you than the phony intimacy of a 20 minute interview can reveal. And it's all out there: county, state and federal court filings, tax assessors' rolls, credit bureau files and department of motor vehicles records, to name a few.

Individuals and business who do business over the phone lines are increasingly security conscious. Businesses are increasingly constructing "fire walls," security procedures to keep computer hackers from breaking into their files. If you have an ATM card you have a secret personal identification number. If you work with a computer on-line, you have a security password.

But it only takes a moment for someone to learn if you've filed for divorce or bankruptcy, if you've ever been the sue-er or the sue-ee, how much your house is worth, or how much you still owe on your car.

With your social security number, someone can actually steal your identity, open charge accounts in your name and stick you with thousands of dollars in phony bills. And ruin your credit at the same time.

You say you never give your credit information to anyone. Take a quick look--is your social security number the same as your driver's license number? Is your social security number printed on your checks? If you answered "yes," to either question, you are vulnerable to credit fraud. Do you want to protect yourself? Then get a new driver's license and ask for a different number. Order new checks and burn the old ones.

What about that early attempt to live with secrets the culprits did not want revealed? That early attempt at coverup? Their names were Adam and Eve. They tried to hide from God. They tried to coverup what they had done with a few leaves. And try as they might, God still found them.

The bad news is, you may not be able to keep your private life private.

The good news is, if you have something you're trying to hide from God, He has offered a better covering. He killed animals and clothed Adam and Eve in their skins. He gave His only Son to die on the Cross so He could cover you in the righteousness of Jesus Christ. And that is a security code that no one can break through.


Published in the Augusta Chronicle 1/20/96

Copyright 1996 by David Sisler

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