Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Promoting Hazy Privacy

R. and I used to have a great relationship. He and I would go out for lunches where he would teach me the basics of how best to get ahead in an investment bank without ruffling too many feathers and how to 'socialize' ideas and pitch them to individuals before presenting them publicly such that your audience were not hit with the ‘surprise element’ before corporate presentations. He was my boss for about three years until we parted ways. He was a great manager in my formative years and for this I will always be thankful to him. Of course, he had a strange, offbeat side to him that I could never really fathom. It seemed something like 'my emotion is held in check under this solid veneer of professionalism’ and it sometimes bothered me that I could not read him completely. I attributed this to eccentricities that are attendant upon individuals who are endowed with an above normal intelligence and wit. Recently, I met him at a lunch store in lower Manhattan and remember telling him how little he has changed in the intervening four years that we had not seen each other. I was happy to hear that his children were doing great and growing up fast. After the usual but genuine pleasantries, we enjoyed a great meal together while promising that we should meet up regularly thereafter.

I now know that I would not be meeting him anytime soon. I ran into a database recently that checks on the criminal profiles of United States residents. It is a free database that allows one to check into people’s backgrounds, type of crime committed and incarceration details. On running into this site, I was initially outraged that we can casually look up each others criminal histories using the services of a publicly accessible website. On the other hand, I was elated to find that this would be a new tool in quickly profiling that suspicious looking individual who might have moved into ones neighborhood.

Well, on a whim, I checked out my name and host of names that included professional acquaintances. All of the people that I decided to check were in the clear except for Mr. R. My previous boss, my good friend, dear Mr. R. (whose birthday, sex, height, weight, eye color and hair color matched exactly to the person I have known) turned out to be an individual with a startling and in my view – a despicable criminal record. He was incarcerated on the charges of marital assault and domestic battery in another state. From the physical details, the exact match of the name and a host of little details publicly provided, I know for sure that there cannot be another person who fits that exact same description (the statistical odds of such an instance is very, very low). I will now find it difficult to meet him for lunch or for that matter talk to him with a straight face. I am still unsure if databases like these are a violation of public trust that will further fray the already delicate strings that holds us tenuously together or a blessing in disguise for ferreting out the suspicious type. I indeed did rush to paint R. in a very unflattering way in my mind without knowing any details on what might have caused this apparently rational man to act this way, but the fact remains that it must have actually happened and this is what will stay in my mind…

2 comments:

Tree said...

Wow. I cringe at the privacy issues involved with stuff like this but at the same time, it's nice knowing some jerk who beats on his wife can no longer hide behind his personality but must face society as he is.

Sunil said...

Yes, it does have two moral sides...