The assorted finds of Artefact Publishing

Trust and fear

This afternoon I found someone’s wallet lying on the street. There was a high school ID card which gave the name of the owner with a photograph. I rang the school to get contact details for the student, and was told that it was policy not to give out that information — instead, I was to give my name and phone number to the school, to be passed on to the student’s family.

Huh? I have the student’s name, so could use a phone book to find phone number and address, and I have the student’s wallet (complete with bank card, signature, and cash); I am offering to return the wallet. Where’s the trust? Where’s my ‘right to privacy’? Even if I didn’t actually have the wallet and was spinning a line, I still have the name and a phone book. That schools operate from a position of such fear and lack of trust does not surprise me, but it is yet another black mark against their name.

Posted by jamie on January 20, 2005 16:17+13:00


I'm very surprised you're surprised. There is no way I would ever give out a colleague's home details if someone rang me to return their wallet. There's pretty much no way I would give out their home details full stop.

It would weird me out a lot if my work (or anywhere similar) gave anyone my personal details - and I would almost certainly complain and ask for it to never happen again. My new work has explained their cellphone and home details policy to me, and it seemed perfectly normal - they will never give anyone my cellphone number or home details although I am welcome to give out both or either (I give out my cellphone number). They will transfer phone calls to my cellphone and, in an emergency, would contact me at home and give me the details of the person needing urgent contact with me.

WRT to schools in particular, consider for a moment that you could have been the student's mother's abusive ex. How could the school (or anyone) take that risk?

Posted by: Anita on January 20, 2005 19:47+13:00

To summarise my position, I don’t think contact details should be a private matter, and I think that any society which requires contact between strangers be mediated by an insitution (such as the police or a school) is diseased.

There are all sorts of scenarios you can imagine where something bad might happen, but hiding contact details is security through obscurity — it doesn’t work particularly well and it doesn’t solve the underlying problem(s). The problem is never going to be knowing someone’s phone number.

People cannot be proven trustworthy if they are not trusted (that is, given the opportunity to betray that trust), and living in fear is going to harm the afraid and those around them.

Posted by: Jamie on January 20, 2005 20:42+13:00

it is also illegal to give out someones personal phone number without their permission. I've needed to change my phone number and keep it unlisted in the past, given those or similar sets of cirmstances i would do the same again in a flash. If you could chose, where would you draw the line as regards what personal information one can give out?

Posted by: sue on January 21, 2005 15:54+13:00

Sue, I think contact information (phone number, street address, email - whatever, really) is information which should be available to the community you live in, because otherwise you’re not living in that community. Why this is a big issue, I think, is that we’re so used to living in a place surrounded by people we don’t know, and so what we think of as our community is a tiny subset of those we live in proximity to. I do not see this as remotely approaching a good thing.

Posted by: Jamie on January 22, 2005 13:15+13:00

The Electoral Roll enforces some degree of public knowledge of details such as these. On the other hand, in Australia at least, it is possible to be “unlisted” on the Roll. Perhaps NZ is similar.

Posted by: Michael on January 24, 2005 11:42+13:00

"Security by obscurity".

Well yes, but real life is not applied maths. In real life, the delay and inconvenience incurred by obscurity can deter the casual, in which case it's well worth it.

"because otherwise you're not living in that community."

Nya-ha! For some people, the "community" includes stalkers and predators. In which case living in the community isn't so attractive any more.

"People cannot be proven trustworthy if they are not trusted."

Sure, but in fact in a case such as Sue's, it's people who've proven they can't be trusted who require one to be hard to contact.

Yeah, it's a sad state of affairs.

Q: why not drop the wallet off at the school? No contact info required, then.

Posted by: stephen on January 25, 2005 15:19+13:00

It’s pretty poor when the primary solution to a problem does not address the root, or even the branch of a problem, but only the leaf part of it (a stalker finding out where one lives or what one’s phone number is), while causing many other problems along the way.

As for dropping the wallet off at school — yes, that is an option, as is dropping it off to the police. However, having to deal indirectly with people, not even through shared people but institutions, is no better.

Posted by: Jamie on January 25, 2005 20:35+13:00

Ok then, how might one address the root of a stalker finding out where one lives or what one’s phone number is? in fact what would one define as the root?

Posted by: sue on February 6, 2005 21:52+13:00

That’s a good question. Obviously the problem is not knowing the phone number, it is the harassment via the telephone (or address). I do not know what means might be taken to address that particular problem, but why is the standard set of consequences for committing a crime not suitable in this case?

Beyond that, of course, one can follow roots a long way, and perhaps find some which are untreatable. But my, wouldn’t the world be transformed in treating the other roots — the total wretchedness of our education system being an example that is much on my mind recently.

By the by, it occurred to me shortly after writing the initial post that this is really the War on Terror writ small: we have a situation wherein the current solution to the problem engenders precisely the effects that those who caused the problem sought to create. This is not the path of wisdom.

Posted by: Jamie on February 6, 2005 22:18+13:00

ok ...a stalker is some1 who already knows the person and there address or some1 who has seen u around a thought ...i'd like a piece of that and follows them home looks on the mail box...which has a last name and street number then goes to the corner 2 get the name of the street then it's as easy as looking the number up. people should'nt be afraid of giving out there address because if some1 want's to know where u live ,phone number and all that in the end it aint that hard to work out (stalkers, murderers ,gangsters any1 !!!)

Posted by: fedup on February 17, 2005 10:34+13:00