Monday, December 28, 2009

Privacy, Identity Theft and Genealogy -- How real is this concern?

Review:

In this series of posts, I have been exploring common concerns among genealogists about both the privacy of the information they gather and the risk of being a victim to identity theft. Although there are real concerns in both areas, the media has hyped these topics to the point of gross exaggeration. What we do in our homes and with our family, are for the most part "private" in the classical sense. But anything we do in the public, buying, selling, traveling, working, etc. is more and more subject to public scrutiny and recorded by computers. Once you go online, you become a public figure. Unless you want to live on a self-sufficient farm, without an automobile, in what is left of the wilderness, without connections to any public utility, almost everything you do will be recorded by some entity somewhere. Even in that level of isolation, you will still have to pay taxes and obtain licenses. So, let's assess the danger of living in the very public world today.

As a genealogist, what is the danger from lack of privacy and identity theft?

Let me assume that I am driving my car across town to a store. In order to do so, I must drive through dozens of intersections, some with stop signs, others with stop lights. In each case, I must rely on other drivers to stop when they are required to do so, and not run into me. Current statistics on traffic related deaths show the U.S. with about 12 to 15 deaths per 100,000 inhabitants. Going back to my post on the incidence of identity theft, you have a greater risk of being killed in a traffic accident than you have of being a victim of computer related identity theft. When you drive, you automatically take certain precautions, like wearing a seat belt or checking your mirrors. Protecting yourself from identity theft should have the same type of automatic precautions, like not answering spam E-mails and making sure to keep a receipt from each credit card transaction.

Then why do we have a huge segment of our population that is terrified of "identity theft" and paranoid about losing their "privacy?" The answer is simple, lack of education and lack of perspective. The real danger isn't posting your genealogy online, the real danger is the server in the restaurant who takes your credit card back to some undisclosed location to run the charge. We all live in a dangerous world. Every day we get up with some kind of risk or danger. Losing your privacy or having your identity stolen are extremely minor problems in our dangerous world. If they happen to you, they can be serious, so can cancer, Alzheimer's, plane crashes and terrorism. But we get on with our lives and usually ignore most of the background kind of risks.

Just as I might get smashed at the next intersection, I might have my credit card or its number stolen today. But I live with that risk and still get up, go to work and write my posts on my blog.

Genealogy is a cooperative effort. Those people that are so afraid of privacy concerns or identity theft, that it interferes in their efforts to find their ancestors need to wake up to the reality of our risky, always changing world and get over it.

1 comment:

  1. Great series! I am unaware of any identity theft case in which the perpetrator used genealogical information to pull off the crime!

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