Shoppers outside a Target store in Pasaena, Calif.
Associated Press/Photo by Damian Dovarganes
Shoppers outside a Target store in Pasaena, Calif.

Are you the next Target?


There was a time when your private records were locked in (a.) your head, (b.) your desk, and (c.) your bank and doctor’s office. You didn’t worry.

But now it’s all out there in electronic form on large mainframe computers connected to all other computers through the internet. That means your personal information could go anywhere in the world in a flash, though it is somehow “locked” and “secure.” Or so they say. But recent data thefts, data grabs, data spills, and data left open for anyone to take have given us lots of reasons to worry.

Economies are based largely on trust, especially now. When I give my credit card number to a website during checkout, I trust that the number will not be shared, sold, or stolen. Their incentive to secure my information is staying in business. Remember when you would hand your credit card to the guy who pumped your gas? Not anymore. Information travels too easily, too quickly.

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But have you ever had one of those dreams where you’re suddenly standing in the street in your underwear? Well, that “dream” has come true for all of us. The Target heist of credit card numbers from 40 million transactions in November and December left people exposed to hacking thieves. Then we learned that another 70 million customers’ data had been compromised.

This comes after we learned that the National Security Agency (NSA) has been gathering all our phone, email, and texting records and storing them for later use. But don’t worry. They’re on our side, at least for now, barring any misunderstandings. And could there be a data breach at the NSA? Of course there could. No data is safe. China is walking off with whatever it wants from us. Anyone persistent enough can do the same.

Then there’s HealthCare.gov, the website behind Obamacare’s health insurance exchanges that invited people to input their most personal information. But it turned out to be the website equivalent of the last place finisher at the Soap Box Derby. Cybersecurity experts David Kennedy and Kevin Mitnick testified to the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee that the HealthCare.gov website is wide open to hackers in search of marketable personal information. Kennedy found security at the site worse now than it was when he testified in November. It took him four minutes to break his way in. Mitnick added that the site’s managers clearly “did not consider security as a priority.” This is actually common. Imagine finding your medical records in a box on the back steps to your doctor’s office. It’s something like that. Or it may as well be.

Now we find that the Environmental Protection Agency accidentally gave environmental groups ”information on up to 100,000 agriculture industry workers, including their home address and phone numbers, GPS coordinates and even personal medical histories,” exposing farmers and ranchers to possible eco-terrorism. Oops.

This is a national crisis. President Dwight D. Eisenhower built the Interstate Highway System for national security, a smoothly functioning economy, and a new automotive America. The next president must resolve to secure the electronic vaults and highways, at least within the government, for the new web-based America. Or citizens must starve the government—as best as they can—of any information it might lose or misuse.

D.C. Innes
D.C. Innes

D.C. is associate professor of politics at The King's College in New York City and co-author of Left, Right, and Christ: Evangelical Faith in Politics (Russell Media). Follow D.C. on Twitter @DCInnes1.


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