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New Zealand's longest-running online daily news and commentary publication, now in its 24th year. The opinion pieces presented here are not purported to be fact but reasonable effort is made to ensure accuracy.

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Privacy can be inconvenient

25 July 2018

During the weekly webcast of which I partake on a Wednesday, an interesting sidebar was raised.

Apparently Portugal is implementing a drone registry which will require all owners to register with a central authority and become part of a searchable database.

One of the panelists (from Portugal) was commenting that this would enable anyone to look up the owner of a drone (if they had its rego number) and get the details of the owner, including phone number. Another panelist pointed out the privacy implications of this.

How crazy are we in the 21st century?

Why are people concerned that you could look up someone's details in a database and get their phone number?

Doesn't anyone remember the good old phone book -- that weighty chunk of tree-flesh with inky stains? This tome was to be found in every household and business in the country and, with very little effort, if you knew someone's name you could quickly find their address and phone number within its pages.

Indeed, some folk still have and use phone books, others use the online version (which strangely, at least for me, is almost completely useless).

So why is their suddenly this concern that people's basic details, such as their address and phone number, might be so easily obtained?

In the days of the printed phone book you could pay an extra annual fee in order to have an "unlisted" number that was not included -- yet surprisingly few people availed themselves of this protection. Clearly, privacy wasn't seen as a bit issue in decades-past.

Which leaves me scratching my head as to why it's now such a worry.

It also raises the very interesting issue of how you find someone's phone number if they've ditched their landline.

As far as I'm aware, their is no equivalent of the white-pages for mobile phone numbers and to be honest, I find that to be a major hassle sometimes. There is occasion when I want to ring someone but have lost their mobile number -- what do you do?

Yes, I could email them but that's not as immediate as a phone call -- and what if I've also forgotten their email address? There's no white pages for email addresses either, is there?

What is the point of ubiquitous communications if there's no easy way to establish the identifier of the person you wish to contact?

Taking the opposite point of view, I guess there is some value to being anonymous by way of having a pre-pay mobile phone for which only you know the number, thereby allowing you to control who can and can't ring you. Of course, unfortunately, that doesn't stop you getting calls from "The Windows Support Centre" or someone seeking a donation for the Westpac Rescue Helicopter -- as they just dial through number-sequences, not knowing who (if anyone) is going to answer.

How do readers get on when trying to get ahold of someone who isn't listed in the old-fashioned landline phone book and whose mobile and email addresses are unknown to you?

Did the fact that *everyone* was listed in the old phone book make life quite a bit easier back in the 20th century? Did this lack of privacy really harm us in any way?

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