CyberWire Dispatch // Copyright (c) 1995 //

Jacking in from the "Privacy: It's an Attitude" Port:

Washington, DC -- The IRS, we're now told, is creating a data base on ordinary Americans that includes everything from news clips from your home town paper to the information you scribble on a credit card application.

Oh... and don't mind if the information -- either in the cheesy newspaper account or on the credit application is wrong: The IRS doesn't care. They'll use it anyway. If you protest? Well, "fuck you" is basically what the IRS demeanor.

In an attempt to thwart the ever increasing slide of personal privacy, here are some quick & dirty lessons of an Information Subversive, Janlori Goldman, currently with the newly founded Center for Democracy and Technology, formerly with EFF and the ACLU where she ran privacy projects.

I profiled Goldman for Wired magazine; the quotes here are "out takes" that didn't make it into that story.

On a really good day, Janlori Goldman becomes a vocal privacy advocate, challenging any unsuspecting clerk that dares ask for her phone number or social security number. "I lecture them and then refuse to give the information," she said. Only once has the tactic backfired; the store told her to walk.

But on bad days she becomes an "information subversive," by giving out wrong or misleading information. "It's the lazy person's approach to thwarting the system," she said.

She's not alone on her bad days. Hundreds of thousands throughout the U.S. -- and spanning all age groups -- wage a similar kind of low-intensity information warfare. "And this is one reason all these databases are so unreliable," said Goldman. "They're filled with misinformation!"

But you don't have to sink to the info-subversive level, Goldman says, there's also the thinking person's approach to privacy.

Here's how it works: When ordering or subscribing to something, use a different middle initial or a slight misspelling of your last name. For example, if you switch your middle initial to "X" when subscribing to, say, America Online, and a month later you get some annoying direct mail offering you a secluded beach front hideaway in Nicaragua, you'll know whom America Online is selling it's subscriber list.

Goldman said she doesn't have the energy to do this. "But it's extremely clever because these people aren't subverting the system, they're learning about the system," she said.

When people start to understand how their personal information is being used -- or abused -- they can take charge. "I think when people start to realize they have power [over control of their personal information] they'll take a principled position," Goldman said. "There's nothing to be lost in fighting for information control... If anything it's more empowering."

Meeks X. out...