Social Security Numbers

December 22, 2013

There was a time government and private businesses (like medical practices) routinely asked for and used our Social Security Numbers — for our drivers licenses, our university ID numbers, our identifying information in our files.  Then they were told not to, and they stopped, and life as we know it did not cease to exist on the planet.

I feel that way about N.S.A. practices, that there has been insufficient attention to what’s really needed and to engaging in the least intrusive practice possible.

Maybe people who work in intelligence are actually more interested in demonstrating their power than their own intelligence, but that is one approach I could see taking to challenging the N.S.A. to come up with a better system:  this is really kind of crude, just grabbing everything, like a teapot collector trying to buy every teapot ever made.  They could be challenged on the grounds that this is not a very “smart” system.

I am also not convinced that even if it weren’t overly intrusive, it would make a lot of sense to engage in this system.  In some ways, it reminds me of doctors ordering tests in order to cover themselves in the event of a malpractice lawsuit.

Without knowing much about national security myself, I would say that preventing terrorist incidents looks to me like a modern-day reenactment of the myth of Sisyphus.  But maybe that’s the point, to help even more people see that our tasks are just tasks, not some sort of mission we can ever accomplish once and for all.  With that in mind, maybe we take better care not to damage others in the process on the justification that we will be able to claim, if we do, to have actually definitively accomplished the mission.


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