Tuesday, June 24, 2008

What's In Store

Today, I went to a storage company with whom I'd made a tentative reservation, only to learn that before renting to me (but after they'd had me sign a couple of the preliminary papers) they would need my fingerprints. The storage company's manager said that they would keep them secure, but wanted to have them available for the Department of Homeland Security, since, after all, we are so close to the Sears Tower, and all the terrorist attacks started with things like rented storage units. The woman in question snuck it into the conversation casually, so casually that I questioned my own hesitation. I left the office to call my parents and my roommate; my roommate had never heard of such a thing, and nor had her co-workers. At which point I apologized for taking up the woman's time, requested a return of my $10 deposit, the copy of my driver's license, and the two preliminary papers I had thus far signed, all of which were given calmly and politely. I left, lugging the two boxes that I, without a car, had optimistically brought with me, and remain slightly concerned about what she'd managed to enter into the computer, and what she kept. Compared to her behavior earlier, she was just a little bit too polite.

Not that the information she had isn't easily accessible to the government or other intrusive agencies anyway, even without the Patriot Act. But something about having it all in the hands of a private company that feels fingerprinting its customers is its right makes me nervous.

Upon arriving home with my two heavy boxes weighing on the thumb I injured last night (I had the good fortune of having a serious conspiracy-theorist cab driver on the way back up, making my own alarm feel not nearly so ridiculous), I began to look for other storage companies in the area, and my friend M called. I told her how frustrated I was by this occurrence and this renewed search. She pretty much laughed at my outrage, saying that if I was going to be that specific, I was going to have to accept that it took more time. "Would you give a private storage company your fingerprints?" I asked. She responded that there was no reason to have a problem with it if she wasn't doing anything illegal. I said that it was a short step from believing that about a storage company to believing it about government surveillance. Which she then said she pretty much did. She thought that as long as she wasn't breaking any laws, there was no real reason to be concerned. She recognized the potential for abuse, yes, but she didn't think it was that big a deal.

"I wish you the best," I said.

I come to this point with this particular friend a lot, where we assume we share politics until it comes down to the specifics, or nitty-gritty, or whatever. But we also get to the fortunate point where we ask each other why. At this point, she did. So I had to answer.

Once again recognizing that the fact that something is logical does not make it right, the argument/feeling she presented was perfectly logical with a given postulate. And that postulate is that what is law is right. If everybody who was doing something illegal was automatically doing something wrong, and conversely, everybody who was doing everything legally was doing nothing wrong, there would be no reason to be concerned about surveillance. But the amazing thing about laws is they're made by humans (even if you believe that law comes directly from the word of God, they're certainly enforced first by humans), and we prefer some humans over others, sometimes in individuals, sometimes in races or genders or beliefs or types, and as such law that comes from humans has to be somewhat slanted. Constant surveillance, or the constant possibility of surveillance, therefore always has tremendous potential for abuse. Should we make decisions in our lives based on the potential for abuse? Generally, no, or at least we should try to weigh the options based on genuine facts rather than sensationalist fear (I've been pretty interested in Free-Range Kids for this discussion lately), but when you know you mistrust many of the people making the laws—which my friend certainly does—you want to approach with caution anything that could voluntarily give them more ammunition to make laws that come from a perspective you mistrust. If you have an inherent mistrust of corporations as a social force, which I do, and even greater mistrust of that force in combination with a government that you also mistrust, you want to take such requests/requirements as were presented to me at this storage company with a full shaker of salt.

You also might want to make your sentences less convoluted than I just did.

But my point still stands. The question on the table is whether you think "I'm not doing anything wrong" is the same thing as "I'm not doing anything illegal." If you consider those two equivalent, and I guess you're within your rights to do so, go ahead and give the storage facility your fingerprints. And you're right, in all likelihood nothing bad *will* happen to you as a result. But if you've any doubt about whether "wrong" and "illegal" are in fact synonymous, please join me in finding another storage company.

3 Comments:

At 12:14 PM, Blogger Milligan said...

From your argument, proposition 1:
If everybody who was doing something illegal was automatically doing something wrong, and conversely, everybody who was doing everything legally was doing nothing wrong, there would be no reason to be concerned about surveillance.

and proposition 2:
Constant surveillance, or the constant possibility of surveillance, therefore always has tremendous potential for abuse.

I do not think that prop 2 follows from prop 1, and moreover, I think that prop 1 is false, quite independently of the fact that prop 1 has an almost-certainly false conditional predicate. Which is to say, even if (illegal iff wrong), constant/easy surveillance would still be a huge problem because the humans entrusted with the surveillance apparatus can still use it in wrong/illegal ways.

Therefore, even granted perfect faith in the law (ha!), I would not give random people my fingerprints.

Best of luck getting your life sorted before the big adventure commences! I'd have offered to help if I, you know, lived in the same state.

 
At 5:05 PM, Blogger Lawrence said...

my favorite example of this is when someone who decided to run for public office sort of as a joke nevertheless attracted serious attention from the media when he declared that he had a plan to curb illegal immigration once and for all.

when they all gathered for a press conference, the candidate had three words for them: "Make it legal!"

...

well, it turned out he really *did* have plenty of other things to say afterwards... but no one any more to say them to....

You know, I *do* actually remember reading this as a real story, but it's become closer and closer to a joke over time in my memory. does anyone actually have a source for this, perchance...?

(And, oh, yes, of course, I'd love to see you in NY.)

 
At 5:05 PM, Blogger Lawrence said...

my favorite example of this is when someone who decided to run for public office sort of as a joke nevertheless attracted serious attention from the media when he declared that he had a plan to curb illegal immigration once and for all.

when they all gathered for a press conference, the candidate had three words for them: "Make it legal!"

...

well, so it turned out he really *did* have plenty of other things to say afterwards... but no one any more to say them to....

You know, I *do* actually remember reading this as a real story, but it's become closer and closer to a joke over time in my memory. does anyone actually have a source for this, perchance...?

(And, oh, yes, of course, I'd love to see you in NY.)

 

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