Kevin Bankston was a closet smoker who hid his habit by sneaking cigarettes outside his San Francisco office. He expected anonymity on a big-city street. But in 2005, an online mapping service that provided ground-level photographs captured him smokingand made the image available to anyone on the Internet. This year, Google's Street View project caught him again.
Coincidence? Absolutely. Yet Bankston's twice-documented smoking highlights a wider phenomenon: Privacy is a withering commodity for all of us.
What you buy, where you go, whom you call, the Web sites you visit, the e-mails you sendall of that information can be monitored and logged. "When you're out in public, it's becoming a near certainty that your image will be captured," says (the newly nonsmoking) Bankston.
So how do you live in a digital world and still maintain a semblance of privacy? Experts say it's crucial to recognize that those bits of data are permanenta trail of electronic crumbs that is never swept away, available to anyone with the skills and inclination to sniff it out.
And new databases are being created all the time. Most of the major proposals for healthcare reform, for example, include compiling medical records into easily and widely accessible digital files.
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