School year beginning, already

By Jack Stevenson - Contributing Columnist

Summer slips by too quickly when you’re young and having fun.

We know that old fashioned readin’, writin’ and ‘rithmetic are the foundation of a good education. Beyond that, it is difficult to know what subjects will provide the best preparation for the future. Our technology is evolving, rapidly, rendering our job skills out of date faster than we can acquire new skills. Then, there are those non-academic issues that our children need to understand for their protection, e.g., narcotic drugs. And there is a new threat to our children’s long term well-being — our electronic oxygen.

Electronic systems now pervade almost every aspect of our lives. These devices are shattering our privacy and making us vulnerable. Frank Pasquale, writing in his book, The Black Box Society, relates a story about a parent who became concerned when his 15-year-old daughter started receiving mail from the Target stores containing advertising coupons for baby items. He complained to Target but later realized that Target knew something the parent didn’t know; the 15-year-old was pregnant. Target collects information about their customers. They can determine with about 87 percent accuracy when a female customer is pregnant and when the baby is due.

The federal government collects phone and internet data. If it cannot be legally collected, the federal government may legally buy the data from commercial companies. In addition to the federal agencies, more than 1000 state, city, and county agencies collect and store data about American citizens. Government agencies can exchange information at “fusion” centers. Almost 2000 private companies collect information about us, and they sell that information to advertisers, credit card companies, insurance companies and government agencies.

Hackers successfully and routinely steal personal data. No one knows who will eventually acquire the data or how it will be used. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services indicates that 21 million medical records have been compromised, and the U.S. Office of Personnel Management recently announced that 21 million government employee personnel records have been hacked. According to Marc Goodman writing in his book, Future Crimes, 600,000 Facebook accounts are compromised every day. A major credit card company sold its data on 200 million Americans to a foreign company realizing, belatedly, that they had sold the data to a criminal organization.

Pasquale indicates that one major credit card company monitors such things as marriage counseling appointments because a divorce can put one or both parties in financial stress. That information might affect credit scores. Goodman reports that a Microsoft survey reveals that 70 percent of human resource professionals have rejected a job applicant because of information found during an on-line search.

Goodman quotes Jim Farley, a Ford Motor Company vice president: “[We know] everyone who breaks the law, we know when you’re doing it. We have GPS in your car, so we know what you’re doing.” When an abused female seeks refuge in a domestic violence shelter, astute managers require that she relinquish her cell phone, and they remove the battery. Otherwise, a hacker can determine the location of the cell phone.

Every time we use a phone, the internet, a credit card, or a merchandiser’s rewards card, we are leaving a record that is being captured. Ronald Deibert’s book, Back Code, cites Yale University law professor Jack Balkin: We are becoming a “national-surveillance state.”

We parents have an obligation to instill in our children an awareness of the potential hazards inherent in our electronic age. Think of electronic technology as you would think of a rose. A rose is a thing of beauty with sharp barbs that can wound. Handle with care.

Jack Stevenson is now retired from military service. He served two years in Vietnam as an infantry officer and worked three years as a U.S. Civil Service employee. He also worked in Egypt as an employee of the former Radio Corporation of America (RCA).

By Jack Stevenson

Contributing Columnist

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