Sunday, July 2, 2017

I am having an identity crisis

No, not the ever popular gender identity type but the civil liberty, privacy type.  It kicked off with the voter fraud commission request to the states to provide a whole bunch of current and historical information on voters including the last four digits of their social security identification numbers.  I had an unnerved reaction like I was supposed to be paying attention to something here maybe.  [Aside:  a favorite science fiction book on where society might be going is John Brunner's "The Sheep Look Up."]

This reminded me of the onerous burden of proving you are who you say you are in order to get a driver's license in the state of New Jersey, which was a complete and utter shock when I moved here from Seattle and went like a good citizen to transfer my license from Washington State.  NJ uses something called 6 point ID whenever you apply for a new license, renew your license, move from another state, do a change of address, change your name because you married or divorced, etc.  The address proof is difficult for someone who just moves into state and the name change requirements can be hard for someone married several times.  Also, there is this special little check at the end of your social security number.  Silly me, I thought driver's licenses where to make sure drivers knew the rules of the road and had the necessary skills for good driving as proved by a road test. 

I needed a license right away because I needed to buy a car and lucky for me, I had already been paying real estate taxes and a water utility bill before I moved here otherwise I would have needed to wait at least a month to get proof of address.  I was  not happy and considered why should I even be a good citizen and transfer my license at all.  Darn that rule following streak, I went back to the licensing bureau with something that worked.

I thought this onerous process was just some mickey mouse that NJ makes one go through but it turns out that it can be worse in other states as in Kentucky where you need to show your Social Security card as well as other things.  I have no idea where my social security card is and haven't seen it much after I got it in my teens many years ago.  So, how many hoops would I need to go through to get a new one???

My sister, who worked at a small bank in NJ for many years says this whole process in NJ is to protect banks from the oodles and oodles of fraud and identity theft that was happening. Of course, I can not find any data to say it worked one way or another.  Maybe it did and the small banks are safer.    Maybe it didn't and that will be the new scandal coming from the US bank system.  What I do know is that I can not open any bank account or purchase a small CD at any bank without providing a social security number or a federal ID number    That bothers me because I don't think it safeguards the bank or me from any type of fraud or crime.  If I were fraud or criminal minded, I would create a corporation (which is easy and relatively inexpensive) and get a federal ID number for it and wash all the ill-gotten money I wanted through as many accounts as I needed.  No wonder someone invented Bitcoin.

I know intellectually that the Internet has made it so that anyone can know every thing about anyone but I still had this romantic notion that the USA was still a place where you could shake off past failures and re-invent yourself as better.  That might have meant you moved to a new state, chose a different name, learned some new skills, improved yourself, whatever but no longer.  Now, even our civic and financial institutions squeeze us into this little box created when you were born and labeled it with a social security number.  When did it happen that when you are born your parents have to get you a social security number right away?

So,  basically, many of our government institutions can track our whole lives from birth to now with just that one social security number.  I know many people live their lives out on social media through photographs and all without worry about privacy but not me.  It bothers me at some very fundamental level.  In my thirties I went from Margie to Maggie because I was opening a new chapter in my life.  Not a big change, I admit and did nothing to my legal identity.  I just wanted my family and friends to stop thinking of me as my little Margie, a label I really had come to abhor.  It worked though older family members found it hard to remember.  Some people need an even bigger change in their lives, but it certainly has gotten much, much harder.

Baa, I say, baa.

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