He Will Know Everything You Do. And He's Not Santa Claus

I try not to get political here in The Digital Tavern. Yet, for the sake of clarity I think it's important to pull a few quotes out of William Safire's op-ed piece in today's New York Times.

As a marketing dude at heart, I love information. Demographic information. The more I know about the customer, the better I am to cater to his/her special needs. I can customize my message specifically to the customer or prospect. Basic relationship marketing, one-to-one marketing, loyalty programs, CRM or whatever the jargon du jour is.

Information in marketing is powerful. No question. And some would prefer not to let us marketeers (sic) know more than we need to. I've know several people who refuse to buy into those Ralph's Club (supermarket discount/loyalty cards) or any other retailer's membership cards. Even if they save up to 30% just by letting the retailer know what you're buying each time you go through the checkstand. Perhaps just a little concern someone will know just how much toilet paper she's buying or how many tubs of Ben & Jerry's she goes through a week. Important stuff to marketers.

So now imagine the federal government and key law enforcement or other agencies who just want a little background on you. Sure, I guess they could subpoena Ralph's for your grocery purchase history, American Express for your travel history. Or even comparing white collar criminals' purchase histories on Amazon to find other's (maybe you) who have purchased the same items. It's a whole new world of profiling. Yet, the new Homeland Security Act will give the government just this kind of power. Enter Big Brother.

[…] Every purchase you make with a credit card, every magazine subscription you buy and medical prescription you fill, every Web site you visit and e-mail you send or receive, every academic grade you receive, every bank deposit you make, every trip you book and every event you attend [~] all these transactions and communications will go into what the Defense Department describes as “a virtual, centralized grand database. […]

An Oracle (think California) DBA's biggest nightmare. Yet perhaps the IT industry's biggest boost.

[…] every piece of information that government has about you [~] passport application, driver's license and bridge toll records, judicial and divorce records, complaints from nosy neighbors to the F.B.I., your lifetime paper trail plus the latest hidden camera surveillance […]

Now at least a marketer's motivation is clearly identifiable. Sell shit. Influence opinion. Act or dress this way. Buy that. Think this. Lifetime value of customer. Etc. You know. Middle of the road mind manipulation. Primal persuasion. Marginal marketing. And while this stuff works on most, there are those who choose or choose not to let it influence our day-to-day life.

But the government's motivations. . . I'm afraid not so clearly identifiable. Safire notes that the New York Times and The New York Post has been dragging the dirt about this through its op-ed pages.

[…] This is not some far-out Orwellian scenario. It is what will happen to your personal freedom in the next few weeks […]

The man behind it? John Poindexter. Who's shady past has brought embarrassment to both the Reagan and Daddy Bush White House.

[…] jury convicted Poindexter in 1990 on five felony counts of misleading Congress and making false statements, but an appeals court overturned the verdict because Congress had given him immunity for his testimony. He famously asserted, “The buck stops here,” arguing that the White House staff, and not the president, was responsible for fateful decisions that might prove embarrassing […]

Safire makes some bold statement in his piece. But he assures readers that “Political Awareness can overcome Poindexter and his plan. He points to how grass roots efforts helped put a stop to a similar overreach by John Ashcroft. In a way, Safire supports a little bit of marketing — guerilla marketing — to bring about changes in the Homeland Security Act. Is the Senate listening?