What goes around comes around in Silicon City, and personal data is the coin of the realm.
It was early evening in Silicon City. An overheated sun was slipping slowly into the cool blue ocean, casting long shadows through the blinds in my office and lighting up the dust particles floating in the air. My secretary already had gone home for the day, something about a system crash. It was quiet. Too quiet.
Then she strolled in the door. Like an online advertisement, she didn't bother to knock. She was high density, all right, a smooth operator with cycles to spare. She sat down in the chair in front of my desk. She said her name was Carly. "Are you private detective Mac Vista, the one they call Killer App?"
"Who wants to know? Oh yeah, you already said that. What business is it of yours?"
Her eyes darted with anger, but she kept her composure. "I need some detective work done. Can you handle the job?"
"It's what I'm programmed to do. Who's the louse, and who's he spinning his hard drive over?"
"His name is Mark. But it's not like that. I just need some ... information."
"Information is my middle name. Really. I had it officially changed. What kind of information are you looking for?"
"The incriminating kind." She looked me straight in the eye. "Like, what did he know and when did he know it?"
I could sense desperation seeping through from behind her facade of steely control--or else it was allergies. That office sure was dusty. Suddenly, I felt sorry for her. I wanted to help.
"If it's information you want, lady, you've come to the right place. How about his video rentals for the last two years? His magazine subscriptions? Favorite charities? Or how about his traffic violations? Overdue library books? Prescriptions? SAT scores?"
"You don't get it. This job requires processing resources. People need to be talked to. Data needs to be accessed."
"Oh, I get it, all right. You want credit reports, bank account records, loan applications, mortgage payments--like that. No problem. That's my home turf. That's where I'm optimized. How about his salary, with options and incentives? Investment portfolio? 401(k)? How about his tax returns for the last five years--federal, state, and local?"
"That's very kind of you," she said, softening just bit. "But I need more. I need telephone and cell phone records. I need e-mails, lots of them, and instant messages. I need to know who he exchanges e-mails with, and what they e-mail about. I need the Web sites he visits, the online searches he conducts, the videos he watches on YouTube."
"Wait a minute, sister. You're treading on pretty thin ice there. That kind of stuff gets into some gray areas, legality wise."
"You can't do it?" she said, challenging me with her eyes. "Or you won't do it?"
"I didn't say that. All I'm saying is, it has to be handled with sensitivity. You wouldn't want this kind of thing leaking out to the press, would you?"
She shook her head.
"I didn't think so. Now, do you mind telling me why you need this data?"
"Let's just say, I have a score to settle."
That figured. There are a million scores to settle, and a million jobs to run, in Silicon City.
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