Famous Last Words
By Denny Hatch
The Color of Her Underwear
I get the sense that U.S. direct marketers find the European Union's paranoia over privacy and the highly restrictive, bureaucratic rules over what data can and cannot be used for to be a monumental nuisance that gets in the way of doing business.
However, the European fear of privacy loss is very real, harking back to Germany in the 1930s and the Nazi persecution of Jews and gypsies. Despite the fact that we saved their bacon in World War II, Europe has every reason to distrust American technology.
Edwin Black's new book, "IBM and the Holocaust" describes how IBM's German subsidiary reaped huge profits supplying the Nazis with American punch-card technology that enabled Hitler to systematically annihilate six million Jews.
But persecution of ethnic minorities could never happen here, goes the argument. Not true. Anyone seen the sappy new flick, "Pearl Harbor"? Not mentioned in the film was Executive Order 9066 signed by President Roosevelt on Feb. 19, 1942. It allowed the U.S. military to round up 120,000 Japanese and Americans of Japanese ancestry from the West Coast and detain them in internment camps for the duration of the War. It was carried out, in the words of Supreme Court Justice Tom C. Clark, "despite the unequivocal language of the Constitution of the United States that the writ of habeas corpus shall not be suspended, and despite the Fifth Amendment's command that no person shall be deprived of life, liberty or property without due process of law."
Today, tens of millions of ever-expanding individual electronic dossiers are rocketing around the country from database to database recording every nuance of our lives and making the information available to anyone who will buy. As the proprietor of one of the major data collection companies once said indelicately, "I want to know the color of her underwear."