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Cell Phones and the New Big Brother
From: David Farber <dave () farber net>
Date: Wed, 3 Sep 2008 15:25:01 -0400



Begin forwarded message:

From: Tracy Hall <tracy.hall () dreams-and-logic com>
Date: September 3, 2008 12:19:02 PM EDT
To: dave () farber net
Subject: Cell Phones and the New Big Brother

No need to mask my name...

I just had the most harrowing experience of "Big Brother" in my life!

I dial my cell phone early in the morning, as usual - and get a "Welcome to Sprint!" message. Since I had not called Customer Service (that I knew of), I assumed a glitch (or fat thumbs), hung up, and dialed again.

Once again, "Welcome to Sprint!"... And by the third time, the point was made (my thumbs aren't THAT clumsy) - I held on the line to find out what the problem was. The automated voice announces that my account had been suspended pending "Identity Verification". I thought maybe it was due to some billing confusion - I had recently separated my service from my now-separated wife, and somehow Sprint used an old address - bills heading all the wrong places - anyway, confusion, but HAD been resolved.

Listening to innumerable "Your call will be answered in the order received", I thought of my billing issues - which had been resolved - and had my thoughts in line to patiently explain to the representative.

When finally a representative came on the line, he explained this was a new policy, REQUIRED of all "new" service (ignore the fact this wasn't "new" service), to "verify the identity of the subscriber" to "protect the subscriber". Within the first six months of new service activation, the account is suspended for "Indentity Verification" - whether you have, say, a call scheduled for a job interview or not. I verified the usual data - billing address (remember the confusion just stated above?), name - then the representative asked for the FIRST five digits of my SS #...

This stopped me cold - no one asks for the FIRST five - they always ask for the LAST 4 - put them together, and voila - identity "problems". I balked, explaining this simple fact to the representative, who "graciously" allowed me to only give the first 3 - "after all, then {they} won't have all of it, eh?".

Uncomfortable, so far, but George Orwell apparently wrote the rest of the script. The representative tells me "The rest of the questions concern data that comes from a Public Database. I will ask you a series of question and ask you to verify". I protest, because I have no idea what "Public Database" they may have scraped information from, but representative continues...

"Can you verify what city Beth Smith lives in?" {Names have been changed to protect my relatives} Now my teen-age daughter - who now lives with her mother - is named Elizabeth, but has her MOTHER's last name (long story), not mine - so I hear it as having either both first and last name WRONG, or the person WRONG, so I don't answer this one - after all, my daughter is a minor, and shouldn't BE in a public database. With some tussle, we move on.

"Can you verify what state John Smith lives in?" My brother's name - but I know there are at least 5 people out on the 'nets with the same name - which did they scrape? Where did this data come from? After again protesting the source of this data (repeatedly described only as "a Public Database"), and repeated questions of "do you or do you not know a John Smith?", I answer with the state my brother is in - and we move on...

"Can you verify what city Jane Smith lives in..." - my twin sister's distinctive name "...is it Cambridge or Somerville?". To the best of my knowledge, she hasn't lived in one of them ever, and the other not in YEARS - and I say so, to this representative, and protest this wholey unreliable process. Where does this data come from? What is being accomplished? Who is being protected?

I am next informed that this "Identification Verification" is required on ALL new cell phone service (remember this service isn't "new"?) - verifying from a "Public Database", I argue vociferously - this is unreliable, stale, useless - the representative continues to protest that it's from a "Public Database" - then...

The representative, exasperated, tells me "you can't complain to me, or to Sprint - complain to your local congressman"... and my breath is taken away. He continues "this process is required on all new service, for Identity Verification purposes; if you have a complaint, take it up with your local congressman"...

Which is when I realize this is another new "public" policy by our intrepid Department of Homeland Insecurity. There must be a database - not just of me, not just of my SS #, but ***of my relatives as well** - who's connected to who, who lives where, when, etc. Even worse, in classic DH(I)S style, poorly and unreliably.

I.  Am.  Horrified.

Paranoid dreams have come true. All my life is being tracked. Privacy? Who needs privacy?

The Kabuki Theatre of DHS has joined with the Comedie Francaise...

[BTW, "Beth Smith", I later realize, is "Betthe Smith", my brother's Swedish wife...] [Also, BTW: I had to turn off my cell phone and wait 15 minutes before powering back on to restore connectivity. Folks, I only HAVE a cell phone - no land line. Emergencies? Pshaw. Urgency? Ridiculous. Appointment? Who cares? DH(I)S, first and always...]

Tracy Hall





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