Another one of those privacy messages that I don’t read

This morning, in her column for tomorrow (that still confuses me; I don’t think any other major columnist in the country writes columns that appear online so long before they do in print), Peggy Noonan was waxing deeply concerned about my privacy, or her privacy, or someone’s (I didn’t read the whole thing; in any case, if it’s someone else’s, it is by definition none of mine, right?):

What is privacy? Why should we want to hold onto it? Why is it important, necessary, precious?

Is it just some prissy relic of the pretechnological past?

We talk about this now because of Edward Snowden, the National Security Agency revelations, and new fears that we are operating, all of us, within what has become or is becoming a massive surveillance state. They log your calls here, they can listen in, they can read your emails. They keep the data in mammoth machines that contain a huge collection of information about you and yours. This of course is in pursuit of a laudable goal, security in the age of terror.

Is it excessive? It certainly appears to be. Does that matter? Yes. Among other reasons: The end of the expectation that citizens’ communications are and will remain private will probably change us as a people, and a country. ..

Later in the day, I got this email from some honcho at AT&T, addressed to me as the holder of a certain numbered account (and the number is none a yer damn’ bidness!):

Dear Valued Customer,

We know your privacy is important, so we’ve made it a priority to talk to you about it. We’re revising our Privacy Policy to make it easier to understand, and we want to point out two new programs that could help us and other businesses serve you better.

The first program will make reports available to businesses. These reports will contain anonymous information about groups of customers, such as how they collectively use our products and services. The second program will use local geography as a factor in delivering online and mobile ads to the people who might find them most useful.

As always, we follow important principles to keep your trust:

  • We are committed to protecting your privacy.
  • We provide you with privacy choices.
  • We will not sell information that identifies you to anyone, for any purpose. Period.
  • We are committed to listening and keeping you informed about how we protect your privacy.

The two new programs are described in this notice, including your privacy choices for each. You can also read the new and old versions of our privacy policy at

To provide feedback on the new policy, please write us in the next 30 days at or AT&T Privacy Policy, 1120 20th Street NW, 10th Floor, Washington, DC 20036.


Robert W. Quinn Jr.
Senior Vice President – Federal Regulatory & Chief Privacy Officer

Whenever I see anything like that — something that intones, “We know your privacy is important…” — I’m like yes, I suppose so, if you say so, and don’t read further, and move on.

But I appreciated his caring so much. I wondered whether his concern had anything to do with the Snowden stuff. Don’t know. Don’t care.

And it strikes me as extremely ironic that this guy probably gets paid more money than I’ve ever been paid to do anything to worry more about my privacy than I do. I’m more concerned about the fact that today, for some reason, I keep getting myself into sentences that don’t have an elegant way out of them, such as the preceding one, and to a lesser extent this one…

Oh, wait, you know what’s really weird? That AT&T notice came through my ADCO email, not my personal email. I have an AT&T account at home, not through ADCO. Oh, well…

40 thoughts on “Another one of those privacy messages that I don’t read

  1. Brad Warthen Post author

    Something about getting a message from a honcho at AT&T worried about my privacy reminded me of “The President’s Analyst.” Did you ever see that?

    Basically, it’s a satire built around the traditional “paranoid-about-government” plotline. Except it turns out that the great, intrusive threat to our privacy, in the end, is NOT the CIA or even the KGB, or any governmental entity at all. It’s The Phone Company, the far more pervasive and powerful entity, which turns out to be behind everything…

  2. Brad Warthen Post author

    I should perhaps explain, for you youngsters out there, that back when that movie was made, the phone company was this huge, monolithic monopoly…

    Wait… Is “monolithic monopoly” redundant? Probably not. A monopoly could conceivably be many-sided…

  3. Brad Warthen Post author

    Ms. Noonan quotes Nat Hentoff extensively and approvingly in her piece.

    She quotes him as saying, “Terrorism is not going to go away. But we need someone in charge of the whole apparatus who has read the Constitution.” OK. But then earlier, she quotes him as saying “that there are particular constitutional liberty rights that [Americans] have that distinguish them from all other people, and one of them is privacy.”

    See, I’ve always believed that a person who has READ the Constitution knows that it does not contain a “right to privacy.” Yeah, I know there’s this huge body of law now that holds that it does, but that huge body of law is wrong. I mean, you know — READ it…

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      What Americans have is an impulse toward privacy that sets them apart. I admit that it’s something of a national characteristic, sort of the way radical individualism is. But it’s not guaranteed in the Constitution…

    2. Brad Warthen Post author

      It’s particularly odd that she would quote that since she wrote, in 2003, “It is now 30 years since the Supreme Court, in its Roe v. Wade vision, blew down the barriers to abortion on demand, using as the essential rationale a constitutional right of privacy that the court had discovered less than eight years earlier.”

      Which shows that at least then, she seems to have known the score. Although had it been me, I would have put “discovered” in quotes, since you can’t actually discover something that is not there…

      1. bud

        For someone who claims to abhor the so called Kultercamp (however you spell it) issues you always manage to bring this up. Sort of like the guy who claims to be afraid of the lion then proceeds to rattle his cage. Whether it’s spelled out or not in the constitution I think most reasonable people would agree that we are entitled to a certain amount of privacy, free from the interference of big brother.

        1. Kathryn Fenner

          Kulturkampf = Culture Battle

          Kampf, as in Mein Kampf

          And yes, Brad does this! Drop bait and then bewail the ensuing battle….

        2. Brad Warthen Post author

          Well, did it not appear to YOU that she was being inconsistent? Perhaps she believes there IS a “right to privacy” in the Constitution. But I would not have thought so, from her previous writing…

          1. Kathryn Fenner

            Okay, not only have I READ the Constitution, I got the highest grade in my fancy law school’s class on it. I have no problem finding an inherent right to privacy in amongst the provisions about not quartering troops, search and seizure, etc. If the government cannot search my house without a warrant in most cases, I find it hard to believe they can interfere with my medical care.

            But then I do not believe a fetus is a “baby” nor that it has rights. I, a fully born human, do. Get your government hands off my uterus!

          2. DanM

            Perhaps Ms Noonan’s concerns about the “end of the expectation that citizens’ communications are and will remain private” could be alleviated if everyone would greatly reduce their use of the telephone, email, and social media. Instead we could resurrect the art of writing letters and mailing them. This would both afford more privacy in our communications and help the USPS get out of its financial crisis.

      1. Doug Ross

        A robber shoots an eight weeks pregnant woman seriously injuring the woman but not killing her. However the fetus does not survive.


        1. Silence

          S.C. Code Ann § 16-3-1083 A person who commits a violent crime, as defined in Section 16-1-60, that causes the death of, or bodily injury to, a child who is in utero at the time that the violent crime was committed, is guilty of a separate offense under this section..

  4. Doug Ross

    How about New York City’s “stop and frisk” laws and Bloomberg’s desire to fingerprint all residents of public housing? Further down the slippery slope or just another case of “if you haven’t done anything wrong, what are you worried about?”

    1. Kathryn Fenner

      I am struggling with this in the context of the homeless “solution” Runyon promulgated and the issue of gangs in night-life areas.
      Everyone has the right to walk down the public streets. The police cannot “head off” undesirables, that is, people who appear homeless. At the same time, how can we prevent the presence of unsavory-looking people from killing an urban environment?
      I guess you can keep an eye on people, and one wrong move, BAM!

      But I don’t like that 100%.

      1. Doug Ross

        If you want to see where this is heading, read the chilling account by Glen Greenwald about how his
        partner was detained for nine hours in the UK under the auspices of their terrorism laws with no lawyer present. There was no discussion of terrorism. As Greenwald says:

        “But they obviously had zero suspicion that David was associated with a terrorist organization or involved in any terrorist plot. Instead, they spent their time interrogating him about the NSA reporting which Laura Poitras, the Guardian and I are doing, as well the content of the electronic products he was carrying. They completely abused their own terrorism law for reasons having nothing whatsoever to do with terrorism: a potent reminder of how often governments lie when they claim that they need powers to stop “the terrorists”, and how dangerous it is to vest unchecked power with political officials in its name.”

        Andrew Sullivan has now jumped from supporting Obama on spying to the other side after following the Snowden case and the White House’s response since it started.

        “Since then, I’ve watched the debate closely and almost all the checks I supported have been proven illusory. The spying is vastly more extensive than anyone fully comprehended before; the FISA court has been revealed as toothless and crippled; and many civilians have had their privacy accidentally violated over 3000 times. The president, in defending the indefensible, has damaged himself and his core reputation for honesty and candor. These cumulative revelations have exposed this program as, at a minimum, dangerous to core liberties and vulnerable to rank abuse. I’ve found myself moving further and further to Glenn’s position”

        1. JesseS

          Chilling? Nah, chilling would be the bad old days when Greenwald would have found Miranda hanging in a shower, but would be too out of it to notice because of all of the LSD in his drinking water. Meanwhile forged suicide notes would have been sent sent to his family.

          This is just standard operating procedure for the modern era. Of course Miranda would be detained for 9 hours, have his personal property confiscated and be questioned after visiting Poitras in Berlin. That is the price of having a lover who is in the center of one of the biggest US national security stories of the decade. Honestly, he got off kind of easy. America isn’t the power house she use to be.

          1. Doug Ross

            If the actions of the British government were done at the request of the American government that would be a big problem, wouldn’t it?

            It’s amazing to see just how much of a subservient role the U.K. has taken over the past decade in terms of being the lapdog to the U.S. They’re like the aging quarterback forced to carry the water bottle out to the new young player who took his place.

    2. Bart


      Perhaps you were a frequent visitor to New York before Giuliani became mayor and cleaned up the streets, especially the high crime areas. During a 10 – 15 year period when it was necessary for me to frequent the city, it was just before and during Giuliani’s mayoral terms. After Giuliani became mayor and he took a hard stand against crime, crime rates dropped across the board. Areas in Manhattan that had been nothing more than cesspools of human degradation were cleaned up. One could walk in the theater district without being approached by a sidewalk host or hostess, offering to sell their “cookies” for a price. One could walk around a certain area without an overwhelming desire to take a hot shower after being exposed to the “sex shops” and theaters that dominated it and brought with it the worst examples of human behavior. Just to be clear, what one does in private is their business, none of mine and I prefer to keep it that way.

      One of the key elements of the law Giuliani enforced was the “stop and frisk” and it worked. Whether you and I agree or not, sometimes it is necessary to take a strong stand and make the difficult choice when it comes to what is best for society in general. Given the conditions that existed in New York when Rudy took office and what they were and remained so for a long time after he left, apparently his enforcement of “stop and frisk” was the right choice for the citizens of New York at the time. Based on comments from friends who live in Manhattan that when the “stop and frisk” first started, there were no racial distinctions made because the police were not discriminating when they stopped someone. White, black, Hispanic, oriental, it didn’t matter.

      During the time before Rudy, one didn’t wander into certain areas of Central Park even during daylight hours and after dark, only an ignoramus would venture into any area of the park. Yet, there were certain enclaves in the city where residents and visitors could walk around after dark and feel safe. One could enjoy an outdoor dining experience at a great Italian restaurant and never worry about being mugged or robbed by a street thug. There was what could be called a very effective “neighborhood watch” who would enforce their own rules without police intervention.

      Overall, “stop and frisk” was a success in dramatically reducing crime rate, especially murder. So, in the final analysis, was it worth it or not?

      1. Doug Ross

        I’ve been to Time Square when it was seedy (early 80’s) and more recently when it has become more like the Mall of America.

        I’m not convinced “stop and frisk” prevents crime as much as it just consolidates it into other areas of the city. It is done to keep the people living in expensive areas happy. The intent is clear: leave this place and go somewhere else to commit your crimes.

        And the tough question will always be: “What made the police stop and frisk a particular person?” It seems like a policy of “you’re sort of guilty until we prove you are innocent”.

        I’d rather see harsher punishments for actual criminals applied.

  5. Bryan Caskey

    On the “stop and frisk” issue, the opinion of the court held that it violated the 4th and 14th Amendment, and was therefor unconstitutional. Assuming for the sake of argument that stop and frisk is actually very good at reducing violent crime (which I think it probably actually is) how does everyone feel about it if you also assume that it’s unconstitutional?

    Here’s my own answer to my question: Obviously, there are plenty of tactics the police could use to deter crime. Heck, quartering soldiers in people’s houses would have a really good deterrent effect. However, just because something works well doesn’t mean you can violate the Constitution and just ignore it. If this actually works well, NY either needs to more properly tailor the policy to fit within the bounds of the Constitution OR, we need to amend the Constitution. Simply ignoring the Constitution is not an acceptable solution. As the Court said:

    “The enshrinement of constitutional rights necessarily takes certain policy options off the table”.

    Also, this (arguable) violation of the 4th and 14th Amendments can be seen as an outgrowth of NY’s violation of the 2nd Amendment, starting way back with the Sullivan Act in 1911, which was the start of NY’s ban of guns. Mayor Bloomberg stated in April that the NYPD’s use of stop and frisk is necessary “to deter people from carrying guns. . . . [I]f you end stops looking for guns, . . . there will be more guns in the hands of young people and more people will be getting killed.”

    So essentially: NY violates the 2nd Amendment by banning handguns, and then needs to violate the 4th and 14th Amendment to assist with that goal now that guns are “contraband”. It starts to get messy really fast.

  6. Bart

    “The intent is clear: leave this place and go somewhere else to commit your crimes.”….Doug

    If the intent was for the individual(s) to leave and go somewhere else to commit your crimes was intended to protect the people living in expensive areas, how can you explain the overall drastic reduction in crime in NY as a whole? If your viewpoint is accurate, then the crime rate in other areas should have been raised in proportion to the drop in the other areas and the overall rate remained somewhat static.

    1. Silence

      Agreed, this isn’t about protecting people in “expensive areas” but in fact the policy reduces crime primarily in areas that are already crime-riddled locations, less expensive neighborhoods, communities of color, that type of place.

    2. Doug Ross

      Because they lie about the statistics. Who compiles the metrics?

      There is also evidence provided in the Freakanomics book that the drop in crime can be tied to the Roe V. Wade decision.

      I don’t think you can point to a cause-and-effect of a single action that had an impact.

      1. Bryan Caskey

        In the case we’re discussing, it looks like the stats came straight from either the New York City or the NYPD themselves.

        Between 2004 and 2012, the NYPD conducted 4.4 Million Terry Stops.

        52% of all stops were followed by searches (frisks) for weapons

        Of the searches, 1.5% found weapons.

        Interesting stats. I’m assuming they’re all correct, but you know what they say about lies and damn lies…

        Full text of opinion here:

        1. Pat

          NYPD just put out a FaceBook post that the Carolinas were 2nd & 3rd on the list of places where guns confiscated in NYC are coming from. On a wiretap, they said a SC gun supplier specifically expressed concern over stop and frisk in Brooklyn. I don’t really know what all this means for civil liberties. I can sympathize with police officers facing extreme firepower from criminals. The debate in NYC is interesting.

    3. Mark Stewart

      New York indisputably changed for the better from 1989-2001. It truly was a renaissance – from Fifth Avenue to Lenox Avenue and out to the farthest reaches of the Rockaways. Al boats were lifted.

      I arrived at the tail end of the decay and saw the boarded up buildings revitalized and the streets (mostly) cleaned of the onslaught of petty street criminals. A big part of it really was the mayoral leadership to say that we are going to enforce community standards. I am not usually a big fan of those, but there are times when enough is too much.

      Columbia is at that crossroads with its homeless situation.

      1. Silence

        A crossroads that we’ve been at for years. Now they are saying: Let’s spend all this money and do all these things, and then we’ll enforce and toughen our ordinances. I say, enforce the ordinances first, then talk to me about the money.

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