A quaint notion of the existence of privacy

Much of the nation is appropriately aghast at the apparent suggestion by Donald Trump that the nation’s Muslims register in a national database. Today in New Hampshire, his closest competitor, Ben Carson, went further, saying there should be a database on everyone. There already is.

In many ways, this is a debate that, perhaps, should have been held 20 years ago, before we became data and, more importantly, before we willingly became data.

This is the argument of Washington Post writer Philip Bump who says that the amount of data collected about us already easily fulfills the wishes of the candidates. Loyalty cards, for just one example, provide a snippet our lives and the data mining business has assembled enough snippets to create a frightening record of who we are, where we are, and what we’re doing.

Where does this overlap with the government? The government could create a tool to pull in data from all of these other places, too. But why bother, when the private sector already has? ‘‘I think it’s a well-established fact that the government, writ large, is the largest source of funds for the data brokerage industry,’’ Sparapani said. ‘‘They have elastic budgets. They can spend whatever they think they need to spend, particularly post-9/11 and in an era of ISIS commanding our attention.’’ Many of those budgets are classified.

You know of the government’s existing databases instinctively: Social Security, Census data, your college or home loans, your tax information, and so on. For immigrants and refugees, there’s more information, including interviews and background checks. Law enforcement — the FBI, Homeland Security — wants to identify the people they should be keeping an eye on. So they take the government’s existing data and overlay the data compiled by the private sector. Then match that against the the profile of who you think is a threat. It’s almost certain that if the government wanted to pick out the Muslim population in an area, they could do so quickly and accurately.

We all know about one of these databases: The government’s no-fly list. This is a more-constrained version of the Muslim database that’s been discussed this week on the campaign trail (though it’s not that constrained). It is a list of possible threats that the government and parts of the private sector (like airlines) can access. Obviously, there are also other names that were considered and screened for the list and not added. The government also has a larger ‘‘terrorism watch list,’’ which exists for precisely the reason that you’d expect.

It’s unnecessary for the politicians to recommend the government build more lists and databases to track Americans, he argues. Because it’s already doing it.