Hoover Media Fellow Robert O’Harrow Reveals Threat to Privacy by Private Industry and Government

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

When a credit card company asks you to fill out an application, do you think about what happens to the information you provide? Like most Americans who have applied for a credit card or conducted some type of financial transaction, whether it’s in person, online, or over the phone, you have probably provided financial and other personal information with little thought to what becomes of it.

In his talk “No Place to Hide: Our Emerging Surveillance Society,” Robert O’Harrow, a reporter with the Washington Post and author of No Place to Hide: Behind the Scenes of Our Emerging Surveillance Society, discussed how the government is creating a national intelligence infrastructure with the help of private companies as part of homeland security. O’Harrow outlined the rising domestic surveillance trends that he believes will shape society for the rest of our lives.

The information provided through countless routine transactions is not kept private but, according to O’Harrow, becomes part of a data bank created by private industry. In addition, companies that collect such information often share it with government, which is one of O’Harrow’s main concerns.

Before 9/11, police and intelligence agencies were afraid too gather too much for fear people would cry foul,” O’Harrow said. “Now they’re collecting information and buying it, oftentimes secretly, in ways that would never have been permitted before.”  Private companies can collect information that the government cannot and are not held accountable. All this has been accomplished, O’Harrow warns, without public debate or oversight by our elected representatives.

The event was sponsored by the William and Barbara Edwards Media Fellow Program of Hoover Institution and the Stanford Alumni Association. The Edwards Media Fellows Program allows print and broadcast media professionals to spend time in residence at the Hoover Institution. Media fellows have the opportunity to exchange information and perspectives with Hoover scholars through seminars and informal meetings and with the Hoover and Stanford communities in public lectures. As fellows, they have the full range of research tools Hoover offers available to them. More than 100 of the nation's top journalists have visited the Hoover Institution recently and interacted with Hoover fellows on key public policy issues, including:

Adam Housley, Fox News, (in residence October 30—November 3)
Howard Mortman, New Media Strategies (October 30—November 3)
Jeff Smith,
Washington Post (October 30—November 3)
David Alpern, Newsweek (October 23—27)
Neil King, Wall Street Journal (October 23—27)
Biskupic, Washington Post (October 23—27)
Trudy Rubin,
Philadelphia Inquirer (October 16—20)
Allison Silver, New York Times (October 16—20)