Thursday, April 22, 2010

They came for the fingerprints, and I didn't speak up because I had no fingers.

So now when we, as foreign nationals, enter the Republic of Korea, we will have to wait in line to stick our finger on the same spot that a bunch of other people have stuck their fingers, thus increasing your risk of getting SARS, H1N1, cooties, and privacy invasion. You can read about it at The Marmot's Hole, where, the Marmot says, "sounds okay to me," and (more extensively) at Brian's where his followers minions commenters generally fall in line with Brian's agreement with comments like "don't see anything wrong with it," "don't think it's a big deal," "as long as it's not inconvenient," etc.

Now, I'm not accusing anybody in particular of hypocrisy, but considering the outcry about the inconsistently applied provisions for background checks and HIV testing we saw last year, I'm actually surprised at how many people are referring to this as no big deal, at least in terms of privacy.

[Note: No suggestion of hypocrisy should be made toward The Marmot, a consistent law-and-order type who applies similar standards both to his home of birth and his home of residence and whose consistency on this point makes him undeserving of an epithet like "sellout."]

Maybe I'm playing devil's advocate here, but hear me out. ROK nationals are fingerprinted, yes, but it is done so primarily as a form of backing up identification, not as a means of law enforcement. Granted, South Korea can require of foreign nationals what they want and said foreign nationals can simply choose not to come, but if one were so inclined they could make a good argument that the new fingerprinting is about singling out foreign nationals and not ROK nationals as potential criminals.

I would be loath to single out the ROK as an instigator of privacy abuses, as this is a common requirement of foreign visitors and/or residents in many countries nowadays, but if HIV testing or background checks were an invasion of privacy or a way in which foreigners were singled out as potential criminals, how is this any different?

Frankly, I didn't really have a problem with the background checks, even if they weren't applied to everyone right away, nor the HIV testing, since South Korea provides extensive HIV treatment to HIV-positive people and an influx of HIV-positive people could bankrupt that system (I firmly believe we should move on from AIDS as a civil rights issue and start treating it more pragmatically as a public health issue so that we can actually attack it and prevent new cases as much as possible).

Some will accuse me of taking an apparently contrarian view just to stir the pot, but I think I've got some reasonable basis for at least a little concern. While I definitely see the value in fingerprinting as a deterrence to keep out the riffraff (and minimizing riffraff or slacker teachers is in every E2's best interest unless they themselves are a slacker), what do we know about how the information is handled.

Let me explain my slight uptick in devil-advocated paranoia here: Today we got news that a Hawaii Blood Bank computer was stolen that had a $hitload of information about blood donors on it:
The Blood Bank of Hawaii has sent letters to nearly 40,000 blood donors and deferred donors, telling them that a laptop computer containing confidential personal information was stolen in a burglary last month at the agency's Dillingham Boulevard headquarters.

In an April 16 letter to potential donors, chief operating officer Wendy Abe said the data includes names, birth dates, partial Social Security numbers and "minimal donation information."
Holy crap! I'm not pacified by their description of "minimal donation information." If you've ever given blood in the United States, you know how extensively private the questions are that they ask, from where you've traveled, to what diseases you've had, to whether or not you're gay! I'm not gay (though a lot of people seem to think I'm a lesbian), but what if this information got into the wrong hands? If I decided to run for public office in San Francisco or Laguna Beach, I'd have no plausible deniability about my heterosexuality and I could lose votes. Thanks a lot, careless Hawaii Blood Bank securitas.

Um, anyway, I just find the whole thing curious. Devil's advocate mode off.

[Note: This post is an expanded version of this comment.]

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