Letter from Prague

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As of December 1st my life will undergo a subtle change. I will be protected by a law on the protection of PRIVATE DATA. Now, since the beginning of time, women have been pretty good at protecting their private data. I recall that a great-great-aunt of mine painstakingly scratched out the stated date of birth on her passport, writing in a new date that would make her 86 instead of 91. She got several new suitors right away...

I don't think that the law which is to protect MY data will stretch quite that far, but firms will no longer be able to freely request information about my age, family status, telephone number and income. And hopefully, this will ensure that I no longer get letters from complete strangers saying they sympathize with my weight problem and will gladly help me lose 40 kg in three months if I put myself in their capable hands and pay them a fortune. That kind of letter would have killed my great-great-aunt and even I feel the need to disclose that I only weigh 53 kg and have never weighed more.

Still, by some unfortunate combination of data making the rounds, I have this letter saying that my name is on a list of the world's fattest females which, moreover, according to the firm that sent it, was obtained in New York! Now the fact that I am being bad-mouthed as far away as New York, which I have never set foot in, really makes me glad to have this new law to protect me.

In addition to the law, there is to be a brand new institute to help implement it, headed by a certain Mr. Neuwirt, who is to ensure that we all get a peaceful night's sleep in the blessed knowledge that our age, weight, religion, and sexual-preferences do not become public knowledge.

However, with all due respect for Mr. Neuwirt, I feel that in this day and age I shall remain fairly vulnerable, and get more so with the advance of technology.

I use a mobile phone, credit card, store and bonus cards, health insurance card, the Internet, E-mail, and city transport card, which has my citizens' ID number on it and which I show to anyone who claims to be a ticket inspector. My full name and address are printed clearly in the Yellow Pages, my salary and bank account is processed by computer and details about my state of health are no longer to be found in a dog-eared yellow file at my doctor's office but are on a computer file as well. I frequently move around in the city centre, unwittingly monitored by 43 hidden police cameras, the number of which is to rise to 150 by the year 2002. For my safety, naturally.

Basically, the only real privacy I get is when I close the door to my flat and pull the curtains. Assuming that there are no hidden cameras and bugs.

Of course I could rebel, throw out the credit cards, mobile, leave my flat, my job, move to the mountains and live in a shack, hoping nobody's watching me with a pair of binoculars. I hear you can even get night-vision ones.

On the other hand, why on earth should I? I really have nothing to hide. I am female, healthy, single and heterosexual. My photo's on the Internet. As for my age, well, one has to keep some secrets. And when I get just a bit older I may well follow my great-great-aunt's example. After all, no woman in her right mind would rely on Mr. Neuwirt to cover for her on that count.