Gov Career

By Phil Piemonte

Blog archive

Sometimes a not-so-great notion

So there was this Hungarian guy who had this crazy idea.

You probably never heard of him. His name was Frigyes Karinthy. He was a writer and journalist in the early decades of the 20th Century.

One of his short stories, written in 1929, dealt with the increasing connectedness of the human population. In that story, his characters came up with a little mind game which posited that every person on Earth was connected to every other by a chain of no more than five linking acquaintances.

The game was "six degrees of separation."

And you have probably heard of that. People were fascinated by the idea. Think about it. Do you know someone who knows (or perhaps knew) someone famous you could never expect to meet otherwise? If you know that person, that's two degrees of separation from that famous person.

Even I can think of at least three instances in which I am linked by only two degrees of separation to three former U.S. presidents (of course I live in the D.C. area, so this is not terribly uncommon), and if you want to reach back in time a bit, I also have connections (again by only two degrees) to three more presidents who are deceased.

And when you think that this particular chain of links (to those presidents) extends further yet—to world leaders whom those presidents could pick up the phone and talk to (three degrees)—the whole thing gets a bit mindboggling. The interconnectedness of connectedness.

Which brings us to the Office of Personnel Management data breach—and to the fact that everybody in the Washington, D.C., Metropolitan Statistical Area—based on the people affected and the information that's contained in their files—is very likely at most only two degrees of separation away from getting to know an identity thief in Ukraine or someone sitting at a desk in an intelligence agency in China.

I personally can think of almost no one who, if not personally affected, is not next up the line. Including me.

So ...

... for that reason, a petition on the White House's "We the People" website is asking the president to order free lifetime identity protection for federal employees who were victimized by the breach.

"This data is far more sensitive than credit card and banking information and contains information that many people use to verify their identity such as mother's maiden name, birthplace, siblings' names, etc.," the petition states. "Given the fact that many organizations that procure this type of data often don't act on it for months while waiting for the free monitoring period to lapse, the Federal employees who are victims of this attack will be vulnerable for many years and deserve more than 18 months of identity protection and monitoring. These Federal employees should receive free identity protection and monitoring for life."

The petition, which was posted June 19, hasn't gotten much traction yet if the counter on the website is accurate—as of 3:45 p.m., July 1, only 43 of the 100,000 signatures (and email addresses) required to send the petition to the president have been added. The goal has to be reached by July 19.

While the breach has fired up just about every federal employee, retiree and federal job applicant here and abroad, there may be a reason why people are not filling out the petition ...

Maybe they just don't want their information hacked yet another time. 

Maybe they just want to turn all this connectedness down a few degrees. Of separation, that is.

Posted by Phil Piemonte on Jul 01, 2015 at 1:49 PM

Reader comments

Thu, Jul 2, 2015

I have a better idea... How about a petition to stop using our Social Security Numbers for identification purposes? The SSN should be for Social Security purposes only. That would stop people from trying to steal it.

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