Have you started noticing the increased request for your zip code as you complete a credit card sale? At first I barely noticed it. It seemed to make sense. At the gas pump, I just thought it was verifying that my credit card hadn't been stolen. If somehow my card had been obtained through criminal means, it could not be activated if the thief couldn't verify the zip code. It was a safeguard for me, the consumer, right? Then I assumed that different businesses were simply monitoring how far their customers were traveling to purchase their products. I could understand wanting to know how far their advertising dollar was reaching. Oh, how naive could I be?!
With all the concern over privacy issues and data mining these days, I am now highly suspicious about giving that information out at the cash register. One sporting goods outlet in my area asks for my zip code during the checkout process, but there is an option to hit the cancel button if I don't want to comply. I always decline. Why the sudden paranoia? Because I've come to realize that my zip code is the key that can unlock a lot of information about me.
Other information can be obtained by paying a few dollars to those "Find People" websites. With a name and zip code you can discover financial information, public records, criminal and tax records, and possibly even email addresses and cell phone numbers. Are you comfortable with anyone gaining access to that kind of private information? I know I'm not! And I guess my natural mistrust is burgeoning because I don't think our information will be limited to the local department or grocery store. There is coercion by federal authorities these days, and a sizable increase in inter-agency cooperation -- so much so that I'm inclined to think that obtaining my zip code starts the chain of information-gathering that could end up with a full profile at the Utah Data Center.
According to Wikipedia, the purpose of this Data Center is (allegedly) to be able to process "all forms of communication, including the complete contents of private emails, cell phone calls, and Internet searches, as well as all sorts of personal data trails—parking receipts, travel itineraries, bookstore purchases, and other digital 'pocket litter'." In response to claims that the data center would be used to illegally monitor emails of U.S. citizens, a NSA spokesperson said, "Many unfounded allegations have been made about the planned activities of the Utah Data Center, ... one of the biggest misconceptions about NSA is that we are unlawfully listening in on, or reading emails of, U.S. citizens. This is simply not the case."
Well now, I think recent revelations by the IRS, various journalists and Mr. Ed Snowden have cast doubt on that statement, don't you? So, by now you may think I'm crazy, but follow this chain of thought ....
I buy a box of ammunition to do some fun target practice with my husband. I supply my zip code, which when combined with my name, provides my address and phone number. All this information is fed into a computer that ends up at the Data Center. The simple act of buying a legal box of ammo may now be used to monitor phone calls and emails. Who knows what could trigger further scrutiny? Who knows what the NSA finds notable? Does the fact that I google a lot of Christian sites put me in a category that offends someone?
I guess the bottom line is that we have no way of knowing what, or how much, information is being gathered. I am a very private person, and while I know that none of my actions warrant inspection or observation, I don't really get to make that decision. So for as long as I am able, I will continue to try and protect my privacy as best as I can. But I'm no longer naive; I know that in these days of corrupt and shameless exploitation, it will become harder and harder.
2 Thessalonians 3:3 "But the Lord is faithful, and he will strengthen you and protect you from the evil one."