fimmtudagur, febrúar 24, 2005

spies like us

I pretty much learned to let go of the whole concept of "privacy" when I got here the first day and registered for a kennitala. This is the Icelandic equivalent of a social security number. Unlike the SSN, however, the kennitala is completely public information. I can look up anyone's kennitala on the Þjóðskrá (National Registry). And the main digits in the kennitala are the holder's birthday. So from someone's name you can easily get their birthday, and also their address of record. And unlike most Icelanders, who have common names like Gunnar and Sigrún, the name Jared is excessively rare. So by just typing "Jared" into this database, you get me and a couple of British dudes who worked here in a fish factory in the 80s and have now returned home.

And to accomplish anything here you end up giving out your kennitala. Bank account? Kennitala. Purchase a new phone? Kennitala. Pack of gum? Kennitala. (Not really, but it's printed on the front of the credit card you use to buy the gum.) Even the corporate directory at work has everyone's kennitala, along with their mug shot, home address, and name of their spouse.

But the governmental kennitala system pales in comparison to the vast peer-to-peer human surveillance network of Iceland. Iceland is not so much a nation as it is a well-funded, tightly connected spy ring. You can't go anywhere without running into someone you know, and then the next person you see knows that you had been at the last place you were. "Oh, Jared, I heard you were at the KR game today!" "Hey, were you at Kerlinglan [the shopping mall] yesterday? My sister said she saw you." "You go to the pool every day, don't you?" The network activates on a hair trigger, and news of my whereabouts seems to propagate faster than I can.

Recently, between laps at the swimming pool, I started talking to a young couple after we shared a lane. The woman, Margret, is originally from the Egilsstaðir in the East and turns out to have grown up with my friend Sunna from work. I ended up breaking the news that Sunna had just gotten engaged and that she and her fiancee had a new apartment. I guess I am becoming part of the spy ring, too.


Anonymous Nafnlaus said...

I love your story of the spy ring, it really is FREAKY though isn't it.


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