Several years ago, I was doing a bit of Googling to see if I could find some long-lost friends. Many had died, including some of the most fascinating people I'd known in New York. A couple of them had gone to prison for white-collar crimes (those bad boys, but they sure took me to some fancy restaurants before they got caught). An anxiety-ridden, henpecked former city employee I worked with had become one of the wealthiest and most ruthless large-scale developers in the five boroughs (way to go, Bruce! But don't you hate being hated?).
I found numerous fascinating stories about my old pals, heartbreaking and heartwarming ones, a couple worthy of a feature film. Even so, I have never grown completely comfortable with these idle searches, despite my benign (usually) intentions.
What really bothered me, though, began when I searched for a delightful doctor friend, who had escorted me to the kind of parties you read about in Vanity Fair (a United Nations ball and a soiree at Gloria Vanderbilt's mansion). Having known him for many years, I had never learned -- because he probably didn't want me to -- that he is a right-wing Republican.
I discovered this by being linked to a list of contributors to several candidates and causes (support for Bush, opposition to affirmative action and to abortion rights). I was shocked, and -- to be honest -- a bit repelled, by this news. I am not proud to admit it, but it changed my feelings for him, and I didn't want them to change. But most of all, I was appalled that his right to privacy had been violated in this way.
(On a much more minor level, I was embarrassed that someone with the same name as me contributed to the Clinton Library and also gave such a small contribution to Emily's List -- a good feminist charity -- that it made me look ridiculously cheap.)
We vote by secret ballot in this country for good reason. But because of technology, combined with the Freedom of Information Act (which otherwise I love), we are in a very real sense depriving ourselves of the secret ballot, which is a cherished and central aspect of our "democracy," such as it is.
Over and over again, since that first time, I have come across posts that revealed an individual's vote (which could be inferred by his financial support of one candidate or another) and his or her stand on volatile issues. Have we relinquished our right to our personal values and leanings? Won't this "freedom of information" have a chilling effect on our participation in the democratic process and the marketplace of ideas?
I fully and ardently support gay rights, including the right to marry, but I don't agree with their advocacy groups' determination to publicize the names of those who sign petitions opposing those rights.We should not have to subject ourselves to ridicule, harassment or worse because of our beliefs.
I absolutely support the disclosure of big-money contributions, but that's not happening very much anymore, now that corporations can give unlimited amounts of funding, anonymously, to PACs, which wield huge power in influencing public attitudes. They kept their secret ballot while ours became compromised.
I vote for a change in the disclosure laws and a restoration of our "secret ballot" in all of its manifestations.