Privacy not really a concern

Among the most interesting and potentially important stories we’ve carried this month was one about the FBI program that allegedly has headed off nearly 150 violent rampages during the past year. It involved the agency’s Behavioral Analysis Unit evaluating people reported to have displayed signs of mental illness and propensities toward violence.

Anyone in our area involved in that? I asked a reporter to check. He wasn’t asking for names, not even home towns. He just wanted a number or to be told no one in the Ohio Valley was checked by the FBI.

No dice, he was told by a woman at the Pittsburgh office of the Department of Justice.

Why not?

Privacy concerns, she replied.

Now, I can’t say that I was surprised. For several years, government at both the state and federal levels has withheld information the public ought to have.

Here in West Virginia, the state Health Department monitors cases of HIV and AIDS throughout the state. Periodic reports are provided, but they give only total numbers for multi-county regions.

A few years ago, I thought it might be good for our readers to know how many HIV and AIDS cases exist in our counties.

No way, I was told. Privacy concerns, you see.

Again, I didn’t want names, just numbers for counties and larger cities.

Why might that be important to West Virginians? Well, as I explained to the Health Department official a few years ago, it might convince some people to alter their behavior if they knew they lived in communities with comparatively high numbers of people carrying HIV. Users of illegal drugs tempted to share needles might think again.

No, repeated the state Health Department official.

So the Justice Department’s refusal to provide the information we sought didn’t really surprise me.

But here’s a thought for the federal government:

You’re concerned about Americans’ privacy, are you? Then why not share that with the National Security Agency, which has been unconstitutionally collecting phone records of tens of millions of Americans?

Or is this whole privacy claim just a bad joke in Washington?

EDITOR’S NOTE: Mike Myer is executive editor of The Intelligencer and the Wheeling News-Register. He can be reached via email at