The headlong rush to the controlled and surveilled world described in George Orwell's 1984 has reached school cafeterias. That's right. Now, before Jimmy and Susie can get their hot dogs and beans at lunchtime, they'll have to give the authorities their fingerprints.
Why? Well, therein lies one the greatest threats to privacy in the country today: petty government officials -- local "leaders" with Napoleonic complexes who are enamored with technology and addicted to spending constituents' money.
These control-freak bureaucrats, with fertile imaginations and access to our wallets, are the spiritual offspring of Adm. John Poindexter, the disgraced brainiac now giving us the Defense Department's infernal Total Information Awareness Program, or TIA. Their weapon of choice is the same technology that allows businesses and government agencies to track everything from razor blade sales to car speeds.
Not content with simply turning a blind eye to what government is doing to develop massive databases on law-abiding citizens in the vain hope of creating a "profile" to magically identify terrorists, local bureaucrats are trying out more homegrown ways to invade privacy. Unfortunately, their imagination is matched by the capabilities of modern data-mining technology.
Perhaps mindful that adults in large numbers -- and organizations spanning from the American Civil Liberties Union to the American Conservative Union -- are increasingly concerned with the intrusive surveillance systems being implemented at all levels of government, some of these same bureaucrats are focusing on children. The latest targets -- at least in the American heartland city of Akron, Ohio -- are school kids standing in line for school lunches.
And why not? If we can condition youngsters to expect to have to give their fingerprints for something as mundane and everyday as obtaining a school lunch, will there be any purpose for requiring them to surrender their privacy later in life that will surprise or upset them?
Of course, as identified by the bold, forward-looking Akron School Board, we now know that one of the most pressing problems facing America today is massive fraud in school lunch programs. And that the only possible way of addressing this problem is to spend huge amounts of taxpayer money to purchase and put in place a state-of-the-art computerized tracking system triggered by scanning students' fingerprints.
Imagine, if you can, what calamity would befall Akron, and undoubtedly the entire country, if that city's school board didn't vote, as it did recently, to spend about three-quarters of a million dollars to purchase this lunch fingerprint system.
Without such a system in place, some kids might not pick the proper nutritionally mandated diet, as determined by -- you guessed it -- government scientists. With the fingerprint-tracking system in place, school authorities would immediately know if a youngster were trying to cheat on his nutritionally balanced diet; a red light would go off, and the diet police could arrest and "correct" the wayward tyke. Another life saved! Nutrition prevails!
If parents noticed their little darlings losing or gaining weight, and hired a lawyer to sue the school for causing the problem, any dispute could immediately be resolved by having a sit-down in the office of the "nutrition enforcement specialist" (in past decades, a "cafeteria worker").
The same failsafe system could be employed were a student accused of being somewhere other than at lunch on a particular day. Roll the surveillance tapes and print out the fingerprint records! Voila! Certainty prevails! Disputes settled! Problems solved! Heaven on Earth.
We can't stop 3 million illegal aliens from loosing themselves each year into the country. We can't prevent terrorists from murdering thousands of our citizens by entering the country illegally, obtaining false IDs and gaining access to areas where they were prohibited. But, by heavens, we can stop lunchroom fraud by America's kids.
I'm sleeping better at night already, knowing the Akron, Ohio, School Board is looking out for our kids. Of course, their job is made easier by virtue of the federal tax dollars available to help pay for such folly. Therein lies the real culprit.
Former U.S. Rep. Bob Barr serves on the board of National Rifle Association and is a consultant on privacy issues to the American Civil Liberties Union.