1997-06-04 - Re: Rotenberg as the Uber Enemy

Header Data

From: Bill Stewart <stewarts@ix.netcom.com>
To: “Robert A. Costner” <pooh@efga.org>
Message Hash: 77daa71e4df6c9269369d6ab2f080d59ffeb755f31f4ebe46c52d2a6321a089a
Message ID: <>
Reply To: <v03102808afb696432bfa@[]>
UTC Datetime: 1997-06-04 03:36:41 UTC
Raw Date: Wed, 4 Jun 1997 11:36:41 +0800

Raw message

From: Bill Stewart <stewarts@ix.netcom.com>
Date: Wed, 4 Jun 1997 11:36:41 +0800
To: "Robert A. Costner" <pooh@efga.org>
Subject: Re: Rotenberg as the Uber Enemy
In-Reply-To: <v03102808afb696432bfa@[]>
Message-ID: <>
MIME-Version: 1.0
Content-Type: text/plain

At 06:03 PM 6/1/97 -0400, Robert A. Costner wrote:
>A new grocery store opened down the street from me.  
>They have lots of special prices, but only available to "club members".
>Club cards are free, but you have to fill out a form. The form asks for
>1.Name >2.  Address >3.  Phone Number >4.  Spouse name
>5.  Social Security number
>In exchange for giving this information, the store will give me a 35 
>cent discount on each package of soft drinks I purchase.  
>This is not a check cashing card, that is a separate form. 
>Why does the store need my social security number ....

They're trading a discount on purchases for marketing information.
If you us an obvious pseudonym, they'll know that
Johnny Cash always buys Brand X pretzels with Brand Y beer,
but the SSN lets them check with TRW/Equifax/Etc. and find that
You, William J. Clinton, a married homeowner making $200K/year,
also have an American Express card and rent N hotel rooms/year,
and already subscribe to Soldier of Fortune and Rent-A-Politician,
but don't yet get the Nukes-R-Us or Victoria's Secret catalogs,
which is more valuable marketing information than just the groceries.

Some places might still be willing to give you a discount for the
pseudonym, but others combine their discount card with a check-cashing
card so they're probably not only not interested, but won't accept it
because [bounced-check-tracking credit bureau] doesn't consider
SSN#000-00-0000 unique and doesn't have a record for 999-65-4321.

>Yes, I would support a law that forbids private companies to ask for 
>social security numbers except for tax purposes.

I'd categorize you as well-meaning-but-needing-to-think-longer
rather than an evil "Uber-Enemy :-) 
Private companies asking for information are engaged in free speech -
you don't have to give them the answer they're hoping for,
and you don't have to do business with them if you don't want.
Radio Shack keeps asking for my phone number, I keep not giving it,
and the only thing that's changed about our business relationship
for many years is that they no longer sell real electronic components
and don't seem to have their free-battery club scam any more.

On the other hand, when the government _requires_ private companies to 
collect Nationalized TaxPayer ID Numbers to be allowed to deal with you,
it's a problem - for instance, requiring SSNs for bank accounts,
requiring SSNs for employers to verify with La Migra that you're a
Real Tax-payin' American instead of some Job-Stealin' foreigner,
requiring documentation on cash transactions over $750,
requiring car dealers to collect your SSN for car registration, etc.,
then there's clearly a privacy problem.  Sometimes you can avoid it,
by using non-US banks, contracting firms, etc., but it's a hassle.

One of the big effects of this is that the SSN _is_ a widely available
mostly-unique ID number that's useful for correlating information.
An alternative, if the government wanted to promote privacy,
would be to replace the Single SSN with a bunch of tax numbers
(either on a smartcard or just giving you a list on paper)
which would let you give everybody who needs a TaxId a different number.
They could still correlate all your tax information, but nobody else
would have the information to know that John Smith, bank-user,
is John Smith, home-owner, or John Smith, car-buyer.
Of course, this number would need to be more than 9 digits,
so it would break lots of old software, you wanted that stuff
broken anyway, and hey, the year 2000's coming as well :-)

#			Thanks;  Bill
# Bill Stewart, +1-415-442-2215 stewarts@ix.netcom.com
# You can get PGP outside the US at ftp.ox.ac.uk/pub/crypto/pgp
#   (If this is a mailing list or news, please Cc: me on replies.  Thanks.)