`Privacy and personal freedoms'

Curtis J. Sitomer's excellent series ``Privacy and Personal Freedoms'' [Dec. 3-5] mentioned briefly that the Electronic Communications Privacy Act ``among other things ... makes it illegal to eavesdrop on ... cellular car phones.'' Readers who have cellular phones in their cars should be aware that cellular technology as it exists today cannot guarantee that their conversations are private, law or no law. At present, a $200-$300 scanner and even many older television sets that cover channels 80-83 can easily pick up cellular conversations.

I recently borrowed an 800 megahertz scanner and used it to listen in on a few such conversations (the law does not go into effect until Jan. 19) and can report that I heard dozens of calls clearly - both sides of the conversation, some up to eight and more minutes long, without missing a syllable. The Department of Justice has admitted publicly that the new law cannot be enforced.

Even though the new statute outlaws eavesdropping on cellular calls, what you say may be overheard. With most routine calls, you are unlikely to encounter any problems from eavesdroppers. Most scanner listeners are just curious spectators. Stuart F. Crump Jr. Vienna, Va.

I followed your series on privacy with great interest as I conducted a seminar attended by labor and management representatives and neutral dispute resolvers at Mohonk Mountain House, New Paltz, N.Y., in 1985. Although drug testing has taken the spotlight in recent years, the question of privacy in the workplace is a much deeper one. For instance, can the employer conduct locker searches, or can an employer require the worker to disclose the reasons for refusing to work overtime? In addition, there are many unresolved questions about the detail often required in employment applications.

In our modern day and age, we voluntarily surrender our privacy by inviting the television and telephone into our homes, and by voluntarily giving detailed information about our personal life when we apply for loans. Peter Florey Haddonfield, N.J.

In response to your Dec. 5 article on the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA), I must argue that the ECPA does not guarantee privacy. One need only examine the terms of the law to realize that it is an attempt to help certain special-interest groups, most notably the cellular phone industry, to promote their products as ``private.'' Previously, citizens have been allowed to monitor all parts of the radio spectrum, which is considered to be in the public domain.

Under the ECPA, only those transmissions ``readily accessible to the general public'' may be monitored. Only cellular telephone transmissions, which are actually radio and not telephone messages, are considered inaccessible to the public even though there is no burden placed upon the marketers of the devices to encrypt or encode transmissions. In fact, one is allowed to listen to cordless telephones in neighbors' homes but not cellular phones in cars.

Protecting privacy in this age of new technologies is desirable, but vain attempts to subject the laws of physics to the will of Congress are not the answer. Gerald Zimmerman Carbondale, Ill.

The article states that ``Computer errors ... have resulted in false arrests, lost jobs ... among other things.'' One of the ``other things'' that resulted from a so-called computer error was an IRS computer claim that someone was owing a federal tax over $3,000 to which was added interest and penalty charges. I say so-called computer error because it had to be a human error for the computer to record it. Fortunately, the tax return preparer was apparently able to convince the IRS that the computer made a mistake.

The IRS should manually check any computerized statement for correctness before it is sent to the taxpayer. The fuss and bother to convince the IRS and the IRS to convince itself that there's been an error is time consuming and costly.

There's redress for false arrests by suit in a court of law. Justice demands similar recourse by or for the aggrieved against a false claim resulting from computer errors. Charles F. Rasoli Long Island City, N.Y.

It's time for the government to get out of people's private lives. It seems that the current view of US adults is that they're not capable of making competent decisions concerning their personal affairs. This has been repeatedly demonstrated by laws governing such issues as seat belts, abortions, and pornography.

Even when the legal right to personal freedom is set aside, how can a set of statistics be taken and generalized to the entire population? It makes no sense. Furthermore, the vast majority of adults desire responsibility for themselves and their actions. They want to make informed decisions.

Don't misunderstand me. The right to personal privacy and freedom should be valued and used with respect. My concern is that Americans be allowed to continue doing so. Joy Sherwin Eau Claire, Wis.

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