[ OUR OPINION ]
Back off, Big Brother
-- that’s our privacy
WHEN retired Adm. John Poindexter used a provision of the law creating the Homeland Security Department to "mine" people's private lives through a project called Total Information Awareness, the American public was outraged. The project was shut down by Congress, but a survey requested by Senator Akaka has revealed more than 120 other programs that collect and analyze large amounts of personal information about individuals to predict their behavior.
A survey requested by Senator Akaka has revealed 122 federal programs that collect and analyze personal information about Americans.
Technological advances have added to the capabilities of gathering and storing information. The extent of the compiling of Americans' activities in computer databases has created the capability of the government to find out far more than it needs to know about every citizen, possibly violating their civil liberties. Congress needs to rein in the government's invasive activity.
The survey, conducted by the congressional General Accounting Office, found 199 "data mining" projects, of which 131 are in operation and 68 are in the planning stage. At least 122 of the projects use or plan to use identifying information such as names, e-mail addresses, Social Security numbers and driver's licenses.
Fifty-four of the planned or operating projects use information from the private sector, such as credit reports and records of credit card transactions. Seventy-seven projects tap into data from other federal agencies, such as student loan records, bank account numbers and taxpayer identification numbers. The survey does not include most classified projects, so the totals probably are much larger.
"I am disturbed by the high number of data-mining activities in the federal government involving personal information," Akaka said. "The government collects and uses Americans' personal information and shares it with other agencies to an astonishing degree, raising serious privacy concerns."
An advisory committee appointed by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld concluded last week that "rapid action is necessary to address the host of government programs that involve data mining." The Pentagon alone has 47 data-mining projects.
The committee called for Congress to pass laws to protect Americans' civil liberties when the government scans computer records for information about terrorists. It also recommended that federal agencies be required to obtain court approval before "before engaging in data mining with personally identifiable information" on U.S. citizens.
BACK TO TOP
Education best way
to combat smoking
THE threat of smoking extends far beyond the heart and lungs, reaching virtually every part of the body, according to the latest report by the surgeon general. The number of Americans recognizing the harm caused by smoking are ending their addiction, but at a slow rate. Greater efforts are needed to educate people about the dangers of smoking and help those trying to quit.
The U.S. surgeon general has reported that smoking causes diseases in nearly every organ in the human body.
Past reports had linked smoking to cancers of the lung, esophagus, throat and bladder, and chronic heart and cardiovascular diseases. The new report by U.S. Surgeon General Richard H. Carmona says smoking also can cause cancers of the cervix, kidney, pancreas and stomach, in addition to abdominal aortic aneurysms, acute myeloid leukemia, cataracts, pneumonia and gum disease. Carmona said it "documents that smoking causes disease in nearly every organ in the body at every stage of life."
When then-Surgeon General Luther Terry linked smoking to lung cancer 40 years ago, more than 40 percent of adult Americans were smokers. That declined to 24.1 percent by 1998 and fell further to 22.5 percent in 2002. However, the government is not likely to reach the goal of less than 12 percent by 2010. Hawaii's rate of adult smokers is 19.7 percent, but that also cannot be expected to reach the national goal.
Still, the response to past dissemination of information has been remarkable. More Americans now describe themselves as former smokers than those who continue to smoke. However, Carmona says, "Every day, nearly 5,000 people under 18 years of age try their first cigarette." As a result, young Americans are more likely to smoke than older people. In Hawaii, smokers account for 24.5 percent of high school students and 30.3 percent of 18-to-24-year-olds.
The report also says the rate of smoking "among some racial and ethnic minority populations and among less-educated Americans remains high." Smoking among adults at or below the poverty level is 32.9 percent. More access to smoking cessation programs would help to address that problem.
Education remains the best tool to reduce smoking. A failed proposal in the California Assembly to ban smoking in cars carrying young children is an example of how not to deal with the problem.