The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

June 24, 2013

Anson Burlingame, guest columnist: The dilemma over our perceived privacy

By Anson Burlingame
Special to The Globe

JOPLIN, Mo. — There were three very interesting columns in Sunday’s Globe related to the issue of our National Security Agency aggregation of data.

I maintain email contact with all three of the men writing the columns.

Herb Van Fleet suggested the “sky is falling” in terms of a threat to the American way of life unless drastic action is taken.

Geoff Caldwell was more restrained saying there was cause for concern but not yet a disaster.

And the arch liberal of the bunch, Gene Lyons, said essentially: “What, me worry?”

Permit me if you will to add more information to the discussion, a good discussion in my view. For a long time now I have received my telephone bill every month.

Every telephone call that I have made is listed. In other words all my phone call data has already been aggregated — by AT&T — but not the government up until … So should I be calling for AT&T to stop keeping records of all my phone calls, or my bank for all my banking transactions for that matter?

All my emails are automatically stored, either on my own computer or by AOL. I like that so I can go back and refresh ideas about what I thought and wrote some time ago.

Ever since I can remember, I have always suspected things that I did, said or wrote essentially anywhere were being “filed” somewhere. I know my detractors over what I write publicly keep a “file.”

So does the Globe for that matter. Just search my name in the Globe’s online search engine and see what pops up.

If you work hard enough, you can find out how many parking tickets I have received over the past 14 years living in Missouri.

Aggregating all that data does not concern me, individually. Essentially I have nothing to hide other than some dumb ideas expressed over some period of time.

And if you really want to know my life’s history, well the FBI has a whole pile of such history, going back to when I was 18 years old.

I held secret and top secret security clearances all my adult life, and the FBI started doing background checks on me beginning at that age. Sure there is some “stuff” in those FBI files that I am not proud of and would not want published in a newspaper, even if I was a candidate for public office locally.

But I am not worried that such will happen, either. In that sense, I “trust” the FBI, unless I was being investigated for criminal activity, officially and formally.

Then all that pertinent information should be available to law enforcement and the public as well if I go to a trial in a court of law.

So given the divergent views from three good writers in Sunday’s Globe related to the general issue of privacy, I side with Geoff Caldwell. I will watch and listen carefully to the ongoing debate, but not get too worried yet about data aggregation by the NSA, personally.

Oh, yes, one other point. Also in Sunday’s Globe, an article reported that given some 3 billion “datas” aggregated, only less than 300 “datas” were actually investigated, with lawful subpoenas, at the individual level.

The odds of my own phone calls being one of those 300 “investigated calls” are about zero as well.

The number three with nine zeros in front of it before the decimal point is very low odds, for sure. That number is sort of like the potential inaccuracy of a DNA sample if you think about it.

Anson Burlingame lives in Joplin.