Early on Monday morning I had the most terrifying experience with the federal government. I was at the Philadelphia airport, about to board a plane for Nashville when I realized that I couldn’t find my driver’s license. When I got to the front of the line, I told this to the TSA worker, who pulled me aside and called his supervisor. His supervisor was a friendly, middle-aged woman with a pink cell phone who fixed a leveling stare on me. “You’re absolutely sure you don’t have any photo ID? Or even a Social Security card?”
I didn’t and said as much.
“O.K.,” she replied. “Because once I make this call, there’s no going back.”
“Who are you calling?”
“The federal government.”
Duh duh duuuuuuh….
She dialed the number and gave the person on the other end my name and home address here in Nashville. She also gave a five digit security code. Within thirty seconds, she began quizzing me about my life. When did I sign my lease? Who do I live with? What kind of car do I drive? I answered each question and she relayed it into the phone, nodding each time.
I know the government has all this information. That doesn’t surprise me at all. What scares the bejeezus out of me is that they have it in one place, at their fingertips, and all it takes is a phone call for someone to get it.
This is part of 9/11’s legacy.
Our government has gathered personal information about us and warehoused it in an easy to find directory that federal employees can access. This may have been inevitable anyway, given the speed of information in a global, digital age, but 9/11 created the political and legislative will to make it happen in a very short time. The government created these databases in response to our fear of terrorism. We have given up a measure of privacy for the kind of security and scrutiny that comes from a government that knows the most intimate aspects of your life.
Feel any safer?
At least they let me on the airplane.