“To workers I’m just another drone/ To Ma Bell I’m just another phone/ I’m just another statistic on a sheet/ I feel like a number/ I’m not a number/ Dammit I’m a man/ I said I’m a man” – lyric, Bob Seger, “Feel Like a Number”

All hail the individual, the creators, designers, workers, innovators. Without individual achievement and spark, we would still be eating nuts and berries in a cave.

But as much as we seemingly give adoration to the individual, the wheels of society and commerce quickly convert our uniqueness to an algorithm so we can be dealt with in an efficient manner.

We become numbers. Social Security, account, personal identification – you name it – a number is what we are boiled down to in the end. It’s so much easier for machines to keep track of us if we are numbers.

It’s also easier to steal numbers than individual achievements.

I heard a news account last week about the data breach at Equifax, one of the three major credit reporting bureaus. Security experts were theorizing that it may be time to ditch one of the most venerated numbers in American society: the Social Security number. These experts theorized that there have been so many databases of Social Security numbers stolen over the past decades, that nearly everyone’s number had been stolen.

According to a CNN Money report, “Social Security numbers were first issued in 1936 -- “for the sole purpose” of tracking the earnings history of workers for benefits, according to the Social Security Administration.

Until 1972, the bottom of the card said: “FOR SOCIAL SECURITY PURPOSES -- NOT FOR IDENTIFICATION.”

But it is currently the gold standard when it comes to identification for all financial transactions.

A national identification card, with yet another number to remember, has been floated as an alternative.

The introduction of biometrics – the use of fingerprints or facial recognition software into products ranging from cell phones to automobiles — may provide a viable alternative. Apple’s new iPhone X reportedly uses facial recognition to unlock the phone. The company has been using fingerprints to unlock devices for a few years now.

Privacy advocates are concerned that Apple will be collecting a facial database that could be used for some nefarious purpose. 

I hate to break it to you, but the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) has been collecting a facial database for years. Ever wonder why you can’t smile or wear your glasses when they take your photo? 

Yup, it slows down the facial recognition software.

By registering us all, we are theoretically protected from the bad guys. That’s the premise.

I can understand wanting to move to something else than a number for identification, but the truth is that if people really want to steal your information, they will find a way. Personal privacy has been dead and buried for at least 16 years.

I think it’s time to have a discussion about this issue and we need to make sure that the solution is as low cost and transparent as possible. We are all involved and you shouldn’t have to surrender information – even a fingerprint – without knowing what it is going to be used for and where it will be stored.

We are so much more than numbers.

As always, I welcome your comments. You can reach me by email at tstangl@theameryfreepress.com, telephone 715-268-8101 or write me at P.O. Box 424, Amery, WI, 54001.

Thanks for reading; I’ll keep in touch. Feel free to do the same. 

Editor's note: This story has been corrected to show that the data breach occurred at Equifax, not Experian as previously reported.