When I was a mere tyke, my momma taught me at the supper table that if I wanted something, I shouldn’t reach across and grab it, but ask for it–and ask politely, too. I wonder if bankers had mommas. I wonder the same about all the corporate chieftains who now routinely reach out and grab our privacy, without so much as a “pretty please.” They are blithely stiff-arming the Constitution, surreptitiously raking up every shred of the most personal information they can find on each of us and feeding this raw tonnage into the maws of their voracious mega-computers, which then spit out our privacy bit by bit to anyone and everyone who’ll pay for it.
Excuse me, but since bankers don’t exactly advertise their intrusive practices, most folks are totally unaware of what’s happening. Thus banks get few protests and GLB lets them interpret each person’s silence as full permission. And, excuse me again, but even if people were explicitly informed about opt-out, the language and the spirit of the Fourth Amendment is as clear as my momma’s early instructions to me: Ask before you grab. If you want to compile a computerized dossier on me and sell any part of my personal life–the burden is on you to get my informed, written consent in advance every time you do it. It’s called “opt-in.”
Sinking the GLUB
A strong believer in the Fourth Amendment, Charlene Nelson, learned last year that a cabal of bankers, legislators and the governor of her state of North Dakota were trying to undo a good state privacy law requiring banks to get permission from customers before selling their financial data. The cabal claimed that this pesky permission provision had to be altered to bring North Dakota into compliance with GLB. Nelson, a mother of three young boys who lives west of Fargo, considers herself a conservative; she had never been much of a political activist, but she knew political horse manure when she sniffed it–and this stank.
To start with, GLB does not require states to conform–indeed, it specifically allows states to provide more privacy protection for their citizens. Offended by the lobbyists’ lie, Nelson wrote to her legislators, assuming they would respect the wishes of citizens like her. They didn’t. “I was just stunned when it passed,” she says, and she went from angry to activist. About a dozen friends and neighbors met, came up with the punchy acronym POP (Protect Our Privacy), decided to petition for a binding referendum to reverse the legislators’ action and set out to collect signatures to put the issue on the ballot.