HIGHTOWER: Clinton Plays Loose With Privacy

One of President Clinton's staffers once made this keen observation: "If we don't make some changes, the status quo will remain the same."Well, yes, but redundancy aside, there is one big area of change Clinton is making that I wish he would change back: Invasion of our privacy. From letting insurance companies rummage at will through our medical records -- to letting the FBI plug into our computers -- this Administration has been astonishingly loosey-goosey on issues of personal privacy. Federal wiretaps, for example, have doubled since Clinton took office, and this year alone they are expected to increase by another 30 percent as the FBI, DEA and other domestic snooping agencies spend millions on new high-tech gadgetry to help them pry into our lives.Now, along comes the White House with another reckless scheme, which is to privatize the work of conducting background checks for government security clearances. Of course, "privatization" is a politically-popular fad these days, but before we turn this sensitive government function over to for-profit hucksters, let's think twice.If you apply for certain federal jobs, contracts, loans or research grants, you are subject to a clearance check that can get plenty personal in a hurry, from looking into your bank records to your sex life. Do you really want Gunshoes R Us to have this information? Yes, they are collecting it for the government, but they also have other clients that might pay a pretty penny to get their mitts on it -- your bank, your HMO, your boss, who knows? In the world of Gunshoes R Us, your privacy is -- at best -- secondary to their profits.Quoting, of all people, Barry Goldwater: "Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty." He was right about that. It's time for all of us to speak-out against both corporate and governmental invasion of our privacy.

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