Private Parts

A looooong time ago, I knew this guy. Maybe you knew him too. He was kinda like a one-man drug store. You know, the kind of drugs you may have seen on police procedurals - how else could you possibly know about these things? The kind of drugs for which, apparently, a number of people have been arrested.

And he got away with it. He's still around, but no longer in business. He's not a millionaire, not even a thousandaire. He's got a real job and lives a quiet life and never spent a single day in jail.

I asked him one time, aren't you worried? Aren't you scared you'll get caught? Aren't you afraid of the cops?

And he said, no. He said he assumed they knew. He had, after all, been doing it for years, in the most notorious hippy bar in town. We all knew him. Why wouldn't they know? But, he carried no guns. He didn't like people much, so there was no gang. His customers weren't criminals, unless you count the letter of the law. So unless they ran out of real criminals or minorities to harass (not that he was for this but, to be honest, it didn't seem to be his concern), he figured they considered him a kind of community asset. He kept people happy and he didn't cause trouble.

I've been on Facebook for a couple of years or more now, and every once in a while something comes bobbing up in the newsfeed about, oh horrors, the lack of privacy. Facebook may be sharing this information. Stuff you write on the internet might be seen by more people than you intended. Advertising agencies might gather information to bombard you with ads. The government might descry an incriminating intent.

The recent revelations about Generals Petraeus and Allen and a couple of their besties have elevated the question of privacy to a somewhat higher plane, if by "higher" you're talking hierarchies, not spiritual dimensions.

And I think I agree with my old, er, acquaintance (this being the internet, I refuse to acknowledge any closer relationship). Anything you put on the internet is something "they" already know. And that, oddly enough, is your security. Your only other protection is locking yourself in your house and cancelling your accounts. Unplug your TV. Cancel the mail. Burn your own garbage. Which will likely do more to call attention to yourself than months and months of Tweets.

There is safety in numbers. How many millions - yea, billions - of us are on this planet and have you looked at the escalating number of cell phones lately? What hope is there for ultimate privacy? Mitt Romney couldn't even have a conference call - which likely didn't include the bartenders - without one of his nearest and dearest buddies spilling the gifts. I Follow a bunch of people on Twitter because they were nice enough to Follow me. But if you were to see me perusing Twitter, you'd see someone with a finger pressed firmly to the "scroll down" button. I'm looking for the 3 or 4 people I find interesting most of the time. If one of the others says something interesting, I'll probably miss it.

Petraeus and Allen - too bad, so sad. You know that, because of your positions in various levels of national security, your embarrassing e-mails, once discovered, had to be dealt with. I tend to agree with David Frumm on Up with Chris Hayes yesterday morning. The President shouldn't have had to accept Petraeus' resignation and we, the people, didn't have to know about any of it - until the TV movie comes out. In the meantime, since it seems neither of you are becoming the Kim Philby's of 21st Century America, can we please not hear anything more of the particulars and get back to dissing the Republican Congress.

I have a few, very few, suggestions to anyone using social media that can be of any possible use. Don't put your actual address, phone number or even e-mail address on the personal profile page. And don't write a status report or tweet about anything that has a direct bearing on any illegal or treasonous activity in which you might actually be involved.

Oh, that won't ensure your safety. There's still the mail and the garbage, credit card receipts and traffic cameras. As my old friend Dr. Orville Clark, philosophy professor, told me the last time I saw him: Be careful. It's a weird world out there.