Frequently Asked Questions

Q. If these programs are really so awful why are the supermarkets so open about them?

I believe that these privacy violations are tolerated precisely because they are so obvious.

Why, in the case of widescale, overt privacy violations by supermarkets, are people not up in arms? Because no effort is being made to hide what is happening. People generally assume that if something is done in broad daylight it must be okay. How many times have you driven past what looked like a break-in and thought, "Nah, they wouldn't be doing that in broad daylight!"? If you saw the same activity occurring secretly, in the dark of night, you'd probably call the police.

Five years ago if we had found out that all of our grocery purchases were being linked to our ID and social security numbers and recorded in a massive, secret databank how would we have responded? With horror and outrage. There would have been special investigations, lawsuits, media exposés, the works. What makes the same scenario somehow palatable today? The illusion that we voluntarily agree to it (addressed above) and, perhaps even more insidiously, the fact that it is not secret.

The trouble with blatantly obvious chicanery is that it confuses people and cancels out their natural instincts. If the supermarket tells you this program is just fine, if all your neighbors act like it's just fine, if lawmakers and others act like it is just fine, then you are likely to shrug off your own suspicions and valid feelings of uneasiness and figure that "they wouldn't do that in broad daylight -- it really must be 'just fine.' " Well, the fact is that they are doing that in broad daylight and it's not just fine. It is just as horrible as if they were doing it secretly.

Have you heard of the experiments where people gave "laboratory subjects" increasingly painful electric shocks when told by the experimenter that doing so was okay? Have you wondered how the German people could have believed it was okay for the Nazis to persecute and slaughter millions of innocent human beings? There are lessons to be learned from these examples. We must resist the seductive notion that others can be trusted to guide our consciences for us. We must remain true to our instincts and remember that something can still be completely wrong even if no one is protesting, even if other people are going along with it, even if we are told by those in authority that everything is 'just fine.' Listen to your instincts.

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