So what's a privacy-conscious person to do? Cut up all credit cards and use just cash? Forgo a passport and foreign travel?
"The only real protection the public can have in this arena is to deny the government the information in the first place," says Tim Sparapani, senior legislative counsel at the American Civil Liberties Union. "Despite all of the bells and whistles, the government has proven itself to be miserably poor at controlling and limiting access to the information that it's gathered about the public."
It's not that the government doesn't try. There are reams of regulations that people with access to confidential information are sworn to follow. Agencies such as the Department of Homeland Security have their own privacy offices that spawn their own committees which study and address both the regulatory and technological ways of protecting all the information that government has in its databases.
But as history has shown, there are the genuinely malicious among us, and even the most meticulous people can err. The recent dust-up over contract employees peering into the passport files of the presidential contenders was blamed on "imprudent curiosity."
Still, two workers were fired and another was disciplined. The inspector general of the State Department is investigating the incidents. It includes a thorough "review of the internal control processes and other aspects of managing the passport data," according to a spokesman for the inspector general. That should be completed by the end of May.
In the meantime, privacy experts like Mr. Harper see a "glimmer" of hope in the incident. First, that it was discovered, since many such incidents go unnoticed, security experts say. Second, that the State Department had digital "flags" on the files of prominent people that alerted superiors when their data were accessed by an unauthorized person.