Government & Politics

“Big Sister” Is Selling Your Name

My old newspaper columns, circa ’95-’96.

My son unearthed a bunch of my old newspaper clippings recently, so I used an ImageToText app on my iPhone to scan this one from February 28, 1996. The app worked pretty well, and idea of the government selling your mailing address (not to mention email) to marketers is as frightening and relevant today as it was almost 17 years ago. (Speaking of which, the County Clerk’s Office sucks, too!) Plus, dig my groovy Geddy Lee look!

Viva la Mullet!

 One of the wonderful things about living in the ’90s is the ability to rack up huge credit card bills without leaving the house.

Using the phone or the computer you can buy everything from Richard Simmons’ exercise videos to haircutting attachments for your vacuum, (introducing…THE FLO-BEE!) Of course, you can also buy items you might actually have a use for, like food or clothing.

The problem with buying from a direct sales catalog is the enormous amount of junk mail that floods the mailbox afterward. Once you buy one item through the mail, manufacturers must believe you want to buy everything through the mail, and catalogs featuring bizarre items from across the globe begin piling up on your doorstep.

What is most annoying about this is the fact that companies sell their mailing lists to one another.

Say I order a delicious cheese wheel from “The Cheese Hut” in Missouri. A few weeks after my delivery arrives, I’m sure to get another catalog from “The Cheese Hut,” as well as stuff from “Cracker Hut,” “Baloney Hut,” “Dairy Product of the Month Association,” “Bulk Eating Digest,” and “Lunchmeats of the World.” “Cheese Hut” has sold my name and address to these companies without my permission—an admittedly “cheesy” move, but one that goes hand-in-hand with corporate mail order.

Government Sell Out

Now comes word that the government wants to jump into the lucrative junk mail market. Governor Christine Whitman recently unveiled a plan to sell off the databases of the Division of Motor Vehicles to direct-mail advertising firms. The plan will supposedly generate $11 million for the state, money Whitman has already included in the budget for this year.

Government officials claim they’re being “extra sensitive to privacy concerns” with the database sale. The truth is, any disclosure of DMV records is a violation of privacy rights. What Whitman is doing is subjecting everyone who drives a motor vehicle to piles of junk mail. Doesn’t the government take enough tax dollars already? Do they really have to tell direct mail producers where we live, as well?

Imagine the precedent this will set if Whitman’s plan comes to fruition. Will the IRS sell off its
database too, permitting the “Cheese Huts” of the world to mail a catalog to everyone with a Social Security number? This might be good for “Cheese Hut,” but it’s bad for the rest of us who have to sort through this junk. It’s also bad for mail carriers, who will have three times as much mail to deliver, 90 percent of which will be thrown away. And what will this do to the environment? Check it out in a few years when there are miles and miles of landfill containing nothing but glossy junk mail.

A few Democratic leaders are suggesting “revisions” to Whitman’s plan, but it probably won’t make any difference. The fact remains that Governor Whitman will be selling your name and your address to a bunch of direct-
mail advertisers. And that stinks worse than an unclaimed package from “The Cheese Hut.”

Make sure you remember to thank her at the voting booth in November.


Originally published in Wayne TODAY, February 1996. 


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