Computers, Privacy & the Constitution
-- MayelaGarza - 13 May 2013

The Data Collectors

Before coming to Columbia my doctor back in Mexico found a cyst and gave me birth pills to see if they would remove it and asked me to get an ultrasound two months afterwards to confirm it had disappeared. Already in Columbia, I made an appointment with Columbia Healthcare Services to have the ultrasound made. The online form to make an appointment required me to specify the reason I was making the appointment, how urgent it was and other apparently reasonable information.

The day of my appointment I showed up at Columbia University Health Services 5 minutes before my appointment only to find out that I had to fill a long questionnaire that included my parents name and education, questions like: “are you currently stressed?; do you often feel overwhelmed?; how well do you sleep?; How many meals you eat per day?; Are you in a relationship?; Is it abusive?” among others. After I filled the questionnaire a nurse took my weight, blood pressure and tested my knee jerk reflex. Only after that did a doctor ask me: “what can I help you with?” I though they had asked me very specifically when making the appointment but I repeated that the only purpose of my visit was to have an ultrasound to confirm my cyst was gone. He said they couldn’t do it there but that he’d refer me to a gynecologist (and he kept all my information).

The gynecologist gave me an appointment one week after that and once more I was welcomed with a questionnaire with intrusive questions. After I handed in the questionnaire a nurse gave me a cup and told me she needed a urine sample. I asked why, since it was completely unrelated with the reasons of my visit and she answered it was just standard procedure to confirm you don’t have any problems you’re not aware of. Next comes the doctor and I immediately jump into the reason of my visit but she says she has never consulted me before, she doesn’t know my former doctor and she is going to have to do a thorough medical check up before I can get the ultrasound. So she performs a Pap test (after I tell her I had one done just 7 weeks before that), examines my breasts for cancer lumps and then tells me the person in charge of ultrasounds only comes on Thursdays so could I please go back that day.

It seems like everyone is abusing their right to collect information and see with how much they can get away with. Even though there are laws requiring not collecting nor storing more information than strictly necessary for the purposes of the collection; I am continuously required to give out very private information. The place where I do my laundry asks for your e-mail (so we can give you promotional discount on your birth month), when I’m shopping most stores ask if you have a card, if not then “wouldn’t you like getting one? It’s free”, when the answer is again no, then would you like to give us your e-mail or phone number so we can keep you updated? The place where I do yoga requires a card to enter class. Recently, I skipped some yoga classes and the next time I was there and handed my card to the receptionist she offered: oh you haven’t been to class in two weeks. I’m renewing my subscription to a magazine and among the questions asked are: How many people live in your household? and What is your median income per year?. I don’t understand why that information would be necessary or relevant to renew a magazine subscription.

When entering the US all foreign citizens are treated as suspects. You are asked where are you staying? After you give the address: Who lives there? A friend? What’s her name? How well do you know each other? For how long?

In Mexico when paying with a credit card and after the transaction has been approved by the bank they ask you to include your phone number in the voucher, “in case there is any problem with the payment”. Some gasoline machines and metro card vending machines ask for your zipcode. Many hotels ask for a passport as if they were another country. Certain corporate buildings and residential neighborhoods ask and retain your ID before granting you access. If you purchase a cell phone service you have to give a photocopy of your ID. Others do it more graciously, giving you the “option” if you bought a product and want a “free” guarantee to register it online providing all your personal information. Each time it is becoming harder to shop anonymously. Because of the prevalence of identity fraud, companies are collecting more data to ensure a customer’s identity but that act itself is exposing more private information of the customer subject to theft and thus perpetuating the problem. To make the problem worse, economist William Roberds has explained: “A lot times the level of security is not related to the total amount of effort or cost that's put forth in protecting and keeping that data secure. Instead, it follows a weakest link, or lowest-point rule, meaning that the data is only as secure as the weakest place within the system that's using it in terms of its security and its ability to be breached by hackers and other malefactors."

Finally, the data collection also strips us from our freedom since everything we have access to is becoming biased and tailored to us. Internet searches show what Google wants us to see first, the webpages we browse show us advertisement based on our sex, age, shopping history. Most people aren’t even aware this is going on so it’s even easier to manipulate them. But even for those of us who know, it’s easy to forget you’re being manipulated into buying something when something you’re really interested in magically appears in you browsing window.

Although it is not easy and sometimes you have to give in (not worth arguing with the gasoline machine); I believe it is important to challenge any personal information requested when it is not strictly necessary or at least give a false phone information when it can’t have repercussions. By principle, it has always felt like an invasion when people ask me for information I don’t believe is necessary but after taking this class and being more aware of its repercussions it bothers me much more.

-- MayelaGarza - 13 May 2013



Webs Webs

r2 - 14 Jan 2015 - 22:44:50 - IanSullivan
This site is powered by the TWiki collaboration platform.
All material on this collaboration platform is the property of the contributing authors.
All material marked as authored by Eben Moglen is available under the license terms CC-BY-SA version 4.
Syndicate this site RSSATOM