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Privacy: A Noun Now Believed to Be Obsolete

Updated on February 21, 2019
William F. Torpey profile image

Graduated NYU 1963. Worked in NYC in public relations 2 years then as reporter/news editor 32 years at The Hour newspapers. Retired in 2000.

Social Security Signed Into Law

President Franklin D. Roosevelt, signing Social Security Act of 1935 in the Cabinet Room of theWhite House on August 14.. Library of Congress photo.
President Franklin D. Roosevelt, signing Social Security Act of 1935 in the Cabinet Room of theWhite House on August 14.. Library of Congress photo.

'1984' Author George Orwell

George Orwell, who wrote about 'Big Brother,' a supreme dictator who watches everyone.
George Orwell, who wrote about 'Big Brother,' a supreme dictator who watches everyone.

You can run, but you can't hide.

It's becoming more apparent to me that Big Brother is alive and well -- and living in the Internet.

It's been only 15 years since 1984 -- and 50 years since George Orwell penned his classic novel. Were he alive today, he no doubt would be wearing a wry smile.

If there were ever any doubt that the society he foretold has come to fruition, there certainly can be little or none today.

Internet Diminishing Privacy

Personally, I'm not "computer literate," but I do know the Internet is only the most recent among a number of invasive forays into my privacy -- and yours. As it is doing in virtually every other aspect of our society, the Internet is exponentially diminishing the privacy of every American.

I was in short pants and knickers in the late '30s and early '40s, but I remember hearing conservatives rail against President (Franklin D.) Roosevelt and the Social Security program he introduced in 1935. The fear then was that the program would destroy our privacy by using Social Security numbers for identification, giving government access to every aspect of citizens' lives and cutting deeply into our privacy. Program defenders vowed that would never happen -- so much for that promise.

We've reached the point today where Noah Webster, were he to be resurrected, might give serious consideration to erasing the word "privacy" from his dictionary, or a least listing it as obsolete.

There's little the world doesn't know about us -- that is, if they want to know.

Big Brother's Alive and Well

In their computers, banks have volumes of information on each of us, not only the basic data of name, address, telephone number and account balance, but also a detailed record of how much money we have and where and how we spend it.

Insurance companies know all this, and more! They really know us personally. They are privy to our health records and family histories. The investigations they commission into our personal habits -- for the alleged purpose of making sure we're not cheating on our applications for life insurance -- fill their data banks.

If that isn't enough, credit card companies and department stores have even more information; they even know where we go on vacation. If we have a discount card at our local supermarket, the chain has an itemized record of what we like to eat and drink (and you thought no one knew about all that ice cream you've been scoffing down!)

All in One Computer File?

This column's too short to include all the ways your personal history is being compiled, but is there any doubt it's all in a computer somewhere? Before long it will all exist in a single file and, unless something drastic is done really soon, it will be available to anybody with a PC (See, I'm learning high tech language!)

They say mail order companies must stop sending you junk mail if you demand it. Personally, I wouldn't ask them to erase my name from their lists because I don't want to help them. If they keep sending junk mail to people who aren't buying their products, maybe they'll go out of business.

I wrote this column as a "My View" for The Hour newspaper in Norwalk, Conn., on Nov. 11, 1999. I now write my views on a wide variety of topics on HubPages.

Is Our Right to Privacy Lost Forever?

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President Roosevelt Signs Social Security Into Law -- 1935

Big Brother Surveillance Watching the US ?


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    • William F. Torpey profile imageAUTHOR

      William F Torpey 

      9 years ago from South Valley Stream, N.Y.

      It's sad, Marisa Wright. It's gone so far that it's virtually impossible to hide your identity. There are so many ways your private life can be compromised -- even if you make every effort not to disclose personal information on the Internet or elsewhere. Too many people and businesses have access to your privacy. We all have checking, savings, investment accounts. We must. Doctors' offices and hospitals have our medical histories. The government has our birth records, Social Security, employment, tax history -- even our deaths. Our employers have virtually everything. Our cell phones track our whereabouts at all times. Department store, gasoline stations, airlines, hotels, etc. have our buying and travel habits -- and insurance companies know it all. Identity theft is fast becoming one of the most common crimes. 1984 has come and gone. The corporate takeover is well on its way. The world is getting a lot smaller. The outcome is overhanging a very steep cliff.

    • Marisa Wright profile image

      Kate Swanson 

      9 years ago from Sydney

      The scary thing is that Gen Y don't see it as a problem! I write on the internet under a pseudonym, and when a website asks for my birthdate I always make up a fake one. But I have young friends who share all their information all the time, and don't seem to understand why they shouldn't.

      Australia has quite tough privacy laws, though, and I was amazed when someone told me that in the States, anyone can get the equivalent of a police check or credit check on anyone (don't know if that's true).

    • William F. Torpey profile imageAUTHOR

      William F Torpey 

      12 years ago from South Valley Stream, N.Y.

      It sure is scary, Trish. Google Earth and the other tracking devices are only the ones we are familiar with. We can only imagine how much more potential the government and the military possess. If they can produce "smart bombs," they probably can tell you what bin Laden had for breakfast!

    • trish1048 profile image


      12 years ago

      Hi William,

      You are so right! Nothing is sacred anymore. One of the things that scares me is Google Earth. All someone needs is an address and they get a visual of your home and exactly where it is. Or, they can use Tom Tom or a GPS. Parents are even supplying their kids with them so the parents will know exactly where the kids are. Wanting to protect children from harm is one thing, but just how far do we go? Very scary.

    • William F. Torpey profile imageAUTHOR

      William F Torpey 

      12 years ago from South Valley Stream, N.Y.

      Even the privacy in our homes is under attack, Constant Walker. Cities around the world are now under surveillance from cameras virtually everywhere. Visual observations from satellites are more extensive than most people imagine, and global positioning systems are tracking us everywhere. Remote sound systems and video cameras pick us up just about anywhere. Where can we hide?

    • profile image


      12 years ago

      We are very close to being a totalitarian state. Personal privacy is not an option in such circumstances.

      Hey Chef, a socialist society isn’t automatically a theocracy or even a dictatorship. Socialism is the default system that people will move to if another form of rule is not forced upon them.

      No real socialist state has ever been tolerated by capitalist supremacists. If true socialism were allowed to flourish it would eliminate classes and distribute wealth equitably among the entire population. It would reward productivity rather than greed. It would recognize the needs of all, not just the wants of the privileged few.

      The moment any attempt at socialism shows any signs of success it is immediately and ruthlessly attacked by the worshippers of the free market.

      Until January 20th anything can happen.

      I think cheneybush want to make the transition from an unstated economic dictatorship to a declared military/political one. I don’t know if their corporate/financial masters will allow it to happen or if cheneybush might even be brash enough to act against their wishes.

      Until the oath is administered to the new “president” I will not feel secure in any sense and not much more afterward.

      Optimism is a wonderful thing but it can be useless or even harmful when unsubstantiated or cited without justification.

      If you accidentally severed a major artery and were rapidly bleeding to death it would probably be unwise to optimistically go about your business as if nothing was wrong, assuming that the bleeding would stop untended.

      Right now we’re looking at a society that has had its throat cut by the razor of capitalism and no realistic effort is being made to stanch the bleeding.

      The parasites that have committed the murder will be more than content to scavenge the rotting corpse as long as they can find a way to make it profitable.

    • Constant Walker profile image

      Constant Walker 

      12 years ago from Springfield, Oregon

      i guess we saw this coming. But we still have the privacy of our homes... or do we?

    • Chef Jeff profile image

      Chef Jeff 

      12 years ago from Universe, Milky Way, Outer Arm, Sol, Earth, Western Hemisphere, North America, Illinois, Chicago.

      My father-in-law grew up in Franco's Spain.  He is not a particularly religious man, so he often skipped church.  Well, some of the Fascist aparatchiks in his village reported him and he had to prove he was not a Communist.

      He fought as a conscript on the side of Franco and was wounded.  One day some soldiers showed up in his village and took him away to become a soldier. He was cheated, like so many other of Franco's veterans, out of the promised land and payments for service.  He is a man of great courage and at times he spoke out against Franco, and for that he was forced to leave his village and seek work in Madrid.

      Unfortunatle, some of the papers collected about his actions followed him there, and eventually he went to Germany, after the war, to find work.  After Franco died my father-in-law was given his pension, long overdue, and was able to collect on the other promises made and not kept by Franco.

      Franco was a very religious man, and he wanted church and state to be one and the same.  Indeed, he often used priests to report on "suspicious" activities.  People were arrested and jailed for a week, or two, or more, simply because someone in their village had a grudge against them.

      Franco was also a National Socialist. He was a Nazi with the Church's blessing.

      I can relate to this story because we have a lot of people in the U.S. who would love to have a Franco in power. They feel safe only when the government and the church work hand-in-hand.

      As for me, I choose Democracy, Liberty and Equality, not safety, theocracy and dark secrets told by lying snitches.

      I worship God in church, and not at work. I vote for people based upon their credentials and abilites, not upon how church leaders tell me to vote.

      We are not a Fascist, National Socialist society yet, but we could well become one if we don't start thinking instead of just going along to get along.

    • William F. Torpey profile imageAUTHOR

      William F Torpey 

      12 years ago from South Valley Stream, N.Y.

      Thank you, Woody, for your comment. It sure is scary, and we may be a little paranoid, but we can't take it sitting down. We need to protest every chance we get, and to let our congressmen know how we feel about this problem.

    • William F. Torpey profile imageAUTHOR

      William F Torpey 

      12 years ago from South Valley Stream, N.Y.

      It's a small world, indeed, NYLady. A was born and raised in Yonkers, where we read the Herald Statesmen. One of my editors at The Hour was Bob Fredericks, who left us to go to Gannett. I'm sure you are right about the FBI, and I'm glad you commented.

    • William F. Torpey profile imageAUTHOR

      William F Torpey 

      12 years ago from South Valley Stream, N.Y.

      Thanks for commenting, Bob. At least we agree a few things!

    • William F. Torpey profile imageAUTHOR

      William F Torpey 

      12 years ago from South Valley Stream, N.Y.

      There's no question, Curdman, that our privacy has been under attack for decades. Insurance companies, I think, were the most agregious offenders for many years, followed by the government and the banks. But the advent of the Internet has aggravated the problem significantly. Nevertheless, we must not give up our privacy without a fight. Americans need to speak out against "Big Brother." We also need to choose our politicians on a more intelligent basis. Thanks for your thoughtful comment.

    • William F. Torpey profile imageAUTHOR

      William F Torpey 

      12 years ago from South Valley Stream, N.Y.

      I appreciate your comment, Jerilee Wei, and I look forward to reading your hub on the subject. Thanks.

    • William F. Torpey profile imageAUTHOR

      William F Torpey 

      12 years ago from South Valley Stream, N.Y.

      Thanks, compu-smart. Information is power, and power will almost always lead to abuse. When corporations and government develop comprehensive data bases on us, you can be sure that, while some good may come from it, the information eventually will be used to our detriment.

    • William F. Torpey profile imageAUTHOR

      William F Torpey 

      12 years ago from South Valley Stream, N.Y.

      Every cloud has a silver lining, Ralph. The loss of our privacy is a big blow, but maybe we can look forward to better politicians in the years to come (starting on Nov. 4, I hope.)

    • Woody Marx profile image

      Woody Marx 

      12 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      I wonder if the next word to loose it's potency will be "paranoid"...we may all have some cause to be such...scary is right!  thanks for Hub William.


    • NYLady profile image


      12 years ago from White Plains, NY

      Great, scary hub. I'm sure the FBI has files on all of us. BTW: I was managing editor at Gannett Westchester for a number of years, and worked there for a total of 18 years. What a small world!

    • profile image


      12 years ago

      Bill.Have to agree with you on this one.

    • Curdman profile image


      12 years ago from Lawrence, KS

      privacy has been a joke since society became, well a society. All that has occured in those years that have past is the ease in which everything we do can be invaded. 50 years ago all it took was a guy in a car following you around for 2 weeks and digging in your trash. Now its a guy in a cubicle with the know-how and 20 minutes of free time to dig in your online trash.

      someone aboved mentioned politicians, but that is our own fault. We have shown unhealthy and annoying levels of interests in what people do from day to day, and it seems the people that like that have nothing to do all day, or do weird things and want to compare themselves to someone to feel like they fit in. We've spent the last few years picking people because of what they did at home last night not at work to run our country and businesses.

      Hence our current predicament. Privacy has not existed in its entirety in a while.

    • Jerilee Wei profile image

      Jerilee Wei 

      12 years ago from United States

      Wonderful hub and certainly an evergreen topic. I just recently wrote about the topic of who sells our privacy on a recent hub from the perspective of knowing more than I wanted to know from working in the industry of selling information. I thought this hub really conveyed the dangers I wanted people to know.

    • compu-smart profile image


      12 years ago from London UK

      Hi William, another educational and fun read.....Its a shame, because the more and more information the authorities have about our personal details, including banks, and medical companies, such as docs and hospitals etc etc, the better we can be helped and served, but the problem is who to trust with this information and are the people who already have this information trusted! even if they are , they can be neglectful which here in the UK we seem to be! regarding losing individuals personal details and discs and memory sticks of personal data going missing on numerous occasions!

      As always with all things there will be pros n cons and unfortuently the cons can out weight the pros and vice versa in other scenarios...

    • Ralph Deeds profile image

      Ralph Deeds 

      12 years ago from Birmingham, Michigan

      Your 1999 column was prescient! The lack of privacy is also biting a lot of politicians in their private lives these days.


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