New lesson

Little children find it difficult to conceive of parents not knowing where they are or what they are doing. If they play hide-and-seek, they want to be found, and laugh when discovered.

Not able to imagine privacy, children feel little need for it. This changes as we grow up. What teenager hasn't said: "Leave me alone. You don't need to know what I'm doing all the time, where I'm going, who I'm with!"

Such a demand - a plea really - evokes a deeper, stronger stirring than just privacy. It is the affirmation of a right of inviolate uniqueness.

Our cover story (right) on new security laws - turbocharged by new technologies - is unsettling. It reminds us that for more than a decade we have been acting like children. Not imagining that we could lose it, traditional norms of privacy may already be lost.

Post-9/11 security needs of the state (or our place of employment) will make it possible for others to know more about where we are, what we've done, are doing, and with whom than we ever imagined.

In less than a decade, many of the customs and mores about privacy that we grew up with will disappear.

Government agencies, from criminal-justice departments to the local water-meter reader will know more about each of us than we ever dreamed anyone would. So, too, will commercial retailers and their marketing arms, from Sears, Roebuck to L.L. Bean.

Privacy is ingrained in US culture, our laws, our sense of ourselves. We expect personal comings and goings to be our own business, not shared with strangers. Global positioning satellites and commercial sale of satellite photos make such a belief quaint.

As children, we learned to be private. As teenagers we demanded it. As adults, we will have to learn new ways to be private again.

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