Privacy: An Abuse of Trust

Recently, the news has been full of stories showing us that the information we have shared is no longer secure. Everything from user names, to full financial details of purchases, has become open to public scrutiny. We have lost trust in established social platforms, and are asked to confront the idea that, every day, whatever we do, wherever we are, our information, movements, and activities may be available to whomever wished to find them.

There are a few areas where a bit more oversight — in a world where nearly anything can be found — that would serve the citizens of the US better. There are still avenues that, due to regulations, can be used to harass, annoy, and cause future legal problems for those that the original intention was to help.

And I’m not talking the person in your HOA that thinks your grass is the wrong color. Those are an issue, to be sure. Having a regulated set of standards, in a time when it is quite possible that, say, newcomers to an area might lose their jobs (due to a shifting economy), without a way to appeal or range of options to remedy, is a sure way to not only cause resentment, but actually damage a person’s options for the future. I’ve seen some vindictive people that will gossip without foundation just because someone doesn’t ‘fit in’ with what they think the group should be like.

But that is a discussion for another time.

The example I’m thinking of is the reporting of suspected abuse of either children or the elderly. Those that are the subject of these reports, and the consequences of the action — or inaction — have affected multiple generations. Some of the reports have been actual issues, some are out of a sense of vengeance, and a few are based on legal or medical requirements. But all are treated with the same care, and are still dependent on the personal outlook of the investigator, and the ‘accepted’ but unstated standards of care that exist.

The departments receiving said reports, under whatever name, are not transparent in the least, nor do they seem to do verification. I know of a case where there were upwards of 20 reports within 24 hours — all done by three people. This lasted until legal action was proposed, because after multiple months of this, it had become harassment. I know that stopped it for this specific targeted person, but I know for a fact that the calls continued, and then the focus was shifted to another target.

One would think that after having the calls from a specific person — since the name of the reporting party had to be collected for potential future litigation, in this quantity — said agency would flag them as a possible vengeance caller. I know for a fact that that person continues to report to this day; so apparently multiple years of calls from this person is still not enough to set a filter/flag for possible bias. And we wonder why our courts and agencies are overloaded!

you are being watched warning-sign
Won’t you be my neighbor?
Um, no, not if you’re a dick.

The consequences of a proven abuse, even a minor one, are far-reaching. A lot of the complaints could be cured by access to a better job; which would give them the money to avoid working more than one job, and not having the energy to spend on fixing the problems. However, once that report is verified — even for something as minor as “the kids have dirty clothes’ — the parent is thereafter forbidden to work with any children, or elderly, and the parent(s) could be fired from their job instantly. Look at the options left — they are ones that require training, or are minimum wage. Which does not help.

Nor, at least here, can this ever be removed from someone’s record — so it has consequences even decades into the future. Even if the agency is satisfied, there is no provision to remove it, other than a short paragraph that can be added to explain extenuating circumstances. As far as I can tell, this is not provided routinely; it has to be specially requested.

This is not to say all such reports are false — far from it. But the theory that a 10 minute visit is enough to determine “this is safe” or not, on the level of care that is being offered, is a fallacy. In contrast to the above issue, there was one one young person being abused, by multiple people, and none of those sent to verify the situation saw anything wrong — and it was only when the child was old enough to not be of interest (to the abusers) did this cease. The parents have their actions vindicated, the child is damaged, and the future grandchildren, if any, will be not allowed to visit grandparents on that side — with good reason. I have little if any idea of what the parenting style would be for them.

These unspoken expectations are one of the areas that need to be spelled out, and provided, to those who have had reports made against them. For example, here where I live, I know it is ‘expected’ that you attend church regularly. There is no provision for those who work Sundays, or don’t have one of their faith available. Nor is this an ‘official’ requirement of the report-taking agencies. But I have seen that — even if all the things they state they want are done — if you don’t attend church, there is no chance that a (reportedly abused) child will be returned (from state custody), or the focus will be removed from your home, even if/when those reports were completely unfounded and false.

What’s the solution? I don’t have all the answers. But some sort of filter/flagging system on those that file reports needs to be made — especially if it is a person who is constantly doing so. Also, more training, and an awareness that your standards and biases may affect how you see things. Perhaps a note to all who call in that they will be summoned to court to account for their report, or charged with false reporting, might save many person-hours of both the agencies and the court system.

Honestly, the flat-out refusal to reveal who is doing the reporting, after many false reports, strips away one’s trust in both friends and neighbors, as well as the agencies themselves. At which point, they (the purveyors of constant false reports) have won. They can now directly influence how you act, like an invisible hand-of-God, an ever-present threat to your social standing should you fail to live up to their unspoken standards.

Not to mention the possible removal of children, who then find themselves expected to fit into a different family — and may not get to see their own for months — which, again, adds stress to all parties, and decreases the trust and bonds that may have been hard work to establish.

Now, if you see yourself in this story, and think “But I’m trying to help!”, please consider what your reaction would be if, out of the blue, you had someone show up on your doorstep, wanting to look around your house, asking invasive questions — and refusing to explain, other than “someone reported you”, why they are there.

man with clipboard at front door of woman's house
Hi, I’m here because someone reported you.. for BEING AWESOME!
-Said nobody ever. But wouldn’t that be nice?

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