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Friday, January 29, 2010

Surprising Privacy Expert Witnesses: How Illegal Aliens Can Teach Us To Preserve Our Privacy

The fields of "privacy law" and "Internet law" are relatively new, undefined (with uncertainty over who is qualified to define them) and expanding (to the extent they can be defined).   As a consequence, some lawyers cannot find "expert" witnesses in these fields without either some difficulty or discomfort with the level of expertise these "experts" purport to have.
For the uninitiated:  Privacy law and Internet law largely concern the vulnerability of people to abuses by others of existing and emerging technologies and media.
The issue sometimes arises regarding how to best protect oneself from being vulnerable.   Who is qualified to speak with expertise on such a subject?  
I contend that New York City has many experts on this subject.   About one million, give or take a few hundred thousand.   They are illegal aliens.   They are here without documentation, without ATM cards, without other cards with magnetic strips or infrared strips, no REAL ID cards, no authentic social security cards (they can get a taxpayer identification number from the IRS with few or no questions asked, as the government will gladly tax you if you're illegal) and no credit cards.   They don't have e-mail accounts or Facebook or LinkedIn accounts.   They don't have bank accounts under their real names.   They don't transact business under their real names.   Most often, they do not drive.  They limit their interaction with the authorities, avoiding even conventional mass transit in favor of ethnic-run (and privately-operated) jitney buses and cabs. 
And, unlike most stupid Americans who gladly trade their privacy for a smidgen of convenience and the allure of a perceived discount, these aliens will happily pay for the ability to remain undetected.  (Remember Dixon's Rule #34:  Privacy and convenience operate in an inverse relationship to each other.) They will eschew state-run mass transit for ethno-centric, privately-operated jitney buses; avoid conventional banks for ethno-centric or church-centric informal organizations which operate on trust without contracts (of course, at the depositor's risk) and will buy these "dollar cards" for international phone cards, eschewing even telephone land-line service. 
In short, they're "off the grid."   The government cannot use its myriad of technologies, legally or otherwise, to track these people.   They are "underground," even though they are in plain sight to those of us on the ground.   They've been here for years; some, for decades.   Some of them make more money than you do!  And they will remain here, because they know that to get connected to the grid places them at immediate risk of detection, detention, imprisonment and deportation.
Who needs another egghead when the neighborhoods are teeming with people who can tell you how they've avoided immigration agents for decades?

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