Welcome to the wonderful world of surveillance shopping, where the most innocent purchase is documented.
Today I had to run into town to buy some boxes. I really like the U-Haul boxes for storage, because they are all exactly the same size, they’re very sturdy, and they have those nice little handle openings to make stacking things easier.
My usual place wasn’t open so I went to another one that said “Authorized U-Haul Dealer.” It was also an auto parts store. I went in and selected my boxes, then took them to the register to pay, something I’d done numerous times at the usual U-Haul store I patronize.
And it went downhill from there.
The gentleman behind the counter tallied it up and as I handed him a $20 bill, he said, “Your name?”
I looked at him, baffled.
He repeated himself, “What’s your name?”
I said, “Why do you ask?”
He said, “I need it to set up your account.”
I replied, “That’s okay, I don’t need an account. I’d just like to purchase these boxes.”
He said, “You have to have an account, that is how our computer system works.”
I said, “Are you telling me that I cannot purchase these boxes unless I give you my name?”
He sighed and stopped just short of rolling his eyes. “I just work here and that is the way we do things, ma’am.”
I told him, “I know it seems like I am being difficult, but I don’t give out personal information. I’m sorry, but I guess I will just have to buy my boxes elsewhere.”
The man behind the counter decided it was okay and he would go ahead and sell me the boxes, despite the limitations of his computer system. So then he asked me, “What is your phone number?”
“Really?” I asked. “Didn’t we just basically go through this? This is beginning to sound like that whole ‘Who’s on First’ riff. I’m not giving you my phone number.”
He couldn’t stop himself, I detected a slight eye-roll this time. I magnanimously let it go because I hoped to leave the store sometime during this particular day.
He proceeded through his nosy computer program and then said, “Now, I really do have to have an answer here – where are you moving to?”
What? Nope. No way.
I said, “None of your business. None of your computer’s business. Are you taking my money or not? Because either way, I am out that door in about 5 seconds. I’m very sorry to be your most difficult customer of the day, but what part of ‘I do not disclose personal information’ is not clear?”
Without another word, he handed me my change, looking incredibly uncomfortable. I left wondering, “When did the U-Haul guy become an agent of the de facto government?”
Some people are probably reading this thinking, “That’s nuts – talk about over-reacting! The poor guy was just doing his job.”
Those people might be right – that might be the case in this particular incident. And I’m cool with that, because I would prefer to overreact and be in the habit of protecting my privacy than wish, one day down the road, that I had been more careful about the information I had innocently provided. I don’t give out my personal information: not for discounts, not for ‘points’, and not for special deals that will come to me in the mail. And as for “just doing your job”??? Well, one day a lot of people will consider it “just doing their job” when they infringe on our rights even more than they do now. It isn’t an excuse then and it isn’t an excuse now. Furthermore, in this age of rampant identity theft, why on earth would you want someone to have any personal information about you?
It has gotten to the point that going to the store, any store, is like running a gauntlet. ”Do you have an account? Are you a member of our rewards program? What is your zip code?” You can’t just go in and buy something without being interrogated by salesclerks who honestly have no idea why they are asking these questions. All of the information that is cataloged out there about you paints a picture of your life. Don’t think that in this world of NSA data mining and information banks that everything you do is not documented and run through programs that use algorithms to classify you and track you and identify you as a potential threat to the status quo.
- Do you buy beans in bulk?
- Do you stockpile ammo? How many different types?
- Do you buy seeds and garden supplies?
- Do you purchase health and beauty aids in quantity?
- Do you buy far more food than your family (also identified and catalogued) could possibly eat in a week?
- How much fuel do you buy for your vehicle every week?
- Is your camping gear collection particularly extensive?
- Do you have a license for hunting, fishing, owning a gun, driving a car, or for anything else that paints a picture of your habits?
- Do you drink alcohol? How much?
- Do you purchase an unusually large amount of first aid and medical supplies?
I’m sure you get the picture I’m painting here. It is time to be the pain-in-the-rear customer that refuses to answer these types of questions. It’s time to decline accounts, memberships, and point-accumulating rewards cards. I’d rather pay a little extra and protect my personal privacy than to provide all of the information the government, the NSA, or the crazy stalker running the cash register needs to figure out that I raise my own food, I go to church, I like a particular type of ammo, my favored color for the kitchen is bright green, my bedroom is decorated in purple, we have a penchant for sparkly band-aids, and that we have enough rice to feed ourselves for the next 2 years, 3 meals a day if we so desired. What if they think you’re buying too much? Should they be able to limit your purchases? “Sorry ma’am, but you already have a two year supply of green peas. We aren’t going to be able to sell you that 14th case.” What about pre-crime algorithms? Do your purchases make you look guilty of a crime you might commit? OPSEC has never been more important. Combine all of the information being gathered about your purchases with the fact that your own appliances are spying on you, and anyone with access can get a pretty alarming picture of your personal life and beliefs.
Don’t get sucked into the vortex of, “If you have nothing to hide, it shouldn’t matter.” It should matter, and it does matter. Way back in the 1600s, Cardinal Richelieu, Armand Jean du Plessis wrote of how the most innocent thing could be manipulated in the quest to demonize another person. “If one would give me six lines written by the hand of the most honest man, I would find something in them to have him hanged.” This video by Mark Dice explains it even more thoroughly.
Say it with me. “Sorry, but I don’t give out personal information.”
Edited to add:
A lot of people have emailed or commented some version of the following: Why don’t you just make up a false number and name?
My response to this is, “Why should I?”
Why should I be put in a position where I feel I have to lie? While I certainly understand that it would be much easier on everyone to do so, I just don’t want to. I prefer to be honest. What if my kids are with me? Then I’m teaching them that lying is okay. I prefer to be truthful, even if it inconveniences me or someone else.
Also, if the person questioning me hasn’t considered how intrusive their inquiries are, my refusal to participate might make them think twice in the future. It’s a way to spread a little resistance and perhaps give someone who is sleeping a little nudge towards awareness.
This is just my personal philosophy – but, I’ve been “difficult” since I was a small child, just ask my parents!