Commentary: All these privacy rules hurt rather than help us

By Jerry Emerson

Today, in many procedures and policies we find more and more concerns with privacy, which in my opinion, are not only misguided and hurting us. What is it about yourself that you do not want everybody else to know?

Is it medical? Chances are if you are my age, medical care and procedure is usually your most frequent topic of conversation with others, and probably including every ugly detail. Wouldn’t you want everybody, especially medical personnel, to know you are allergic to penicillin, acetate, have had a hip transplant, or whatever?

Now think about those useless forms that must be printed, filed, tracked, certified, programmed into the software, etc. How many more expensive secure systems and medical experts – for example trained nurses – must be used and employed just to keep up with all this It all adds to medical costs, but with no health benefits. Do you think it’s worth all this hassle when not knowing one another’s medical situation might just be more harmful than helpful?

Finally, if an individual is really concerned about their privacy, perhaps they could be given the opportunity to opt in rather than we all having to participate without the opportunity to opt out. Of course there are situations – spousal abuse, identity covering for whistle-blowers, psychopaths, and such – where identity covering is necessary and beneficial, and we could probably better manage these few situations better if we didn’t “gum up” the systems with trying to protect everyone’s identity. I hate to think this, but I wonder how many times medical professionals have used privacy excuses to hide poor care or even malpractice? 

Is financial fraud what worries you? It seems to me we have put the emphasis on the victims rather than the perpetrators. The answer to this problem is not to make me a proficient computer expert, buy some expensive device, fancy software, or memorize 50+ passwords, but rather to make the perpetrator suffer severe consequences. If someone tries to buy a BMW using my credit card, isn’t the illegal behavior their problem and the dealer’s problem, not mine? Furthermore, we could make financial institutions and businesses quick to recognize fraud and compensate in cases of successful fraud (as many already do). Again, what are we trying to hide? A million-dollar account hidden in some small island to avoid taxes?

Worried about being tracked, or folks knowing where you are or where you are going? Perhaps if I am worried about folks knowing my destination, maybe I shouldn’t be going there. Google and some transportation agencies already are using our movement in automobiles to our advantage by managing and reporting traffic information, both to the benefit of individuals and agencies. Pedestrian and other forms of movement could also be tracked. Perhaps one of the reasons South Korea and Germany did a better job in responding to the coronavirus was that they had the capability to know where their citizens had been and where they were going, through contact tracing. This coupled with medical information (freely given) are helping these nations overcome the virus crisis.

How do you respond to the common greeting “How are you?” these days? With the useless and uncaring reply, “Fine”? Wouldn’t it be better to reply with your actual private feelings be they joyful or sorrowful? I know when in my life things were down and I was able to share with a neighbor or friend, the sharing truly helped. Isn’t the very basis of helpful outcomes – counseling, overcoming addictions such as in AA and psychiatry – the principle that if we are able share our inner most fears and concerns, it leads to positive outcomes?

Today, in these current periods of isolation through quarantines due to the virus, aren’t we missing the opportunity to truly share with one another? Don’t some of us complain that we live in neighborhoods of isolation? Thanks to John Wesley, the whole “method” in Methodism is small groups sharing the gospel with one another. When we try and keep all to ourselves, do we hurt ourselves?

This is not an area in which I have no experience, as I worked issuing driver’s licenses for several years. I helped several citizens who had great difficulties when their identity was “stolen,” while the guilty parties suffered little to no penalty. And when license applicants were reluctant to provide identity information, they usually were trying to hide bad behavior, or avoid some requirement, like living in New York state but trying to claim Delaware residency for tax purposes or for receiving resident tuition for their children. Some questionable folks try to hide their identity and/or location to avoid law enforcement, driving problems, or taxes altogether.

So, it seems to me society benefits much more from open transparency than trying to keep everything private. I want everyone to know I’m allergic to penicillin, and how much better I’ve been feeling after my recent valve replacement. And, if and when I call 911 and the medics ask my neighbors what they know, I hope they respond “Well, he just underwent heart surgery in New Jersey” instead of “Oh that’s a privacy act violation.”

So, friends, exactly what are we trying to hide?

Jerry Emerson lives in Dover.