I mentioned being on one of the terrorist watch lists in another thread.
What a lot of people don't realize nowadays is that "data is forever." Storage is virtually free now, so there's no reason to make the expense of cleaning datasets up. I've seen how this worked at a couple of previous employers, and there are many graphic examples in comp.risks.
Remember that fight you were in back in the first grade? In my age group you got swatted and sent back to class. Nowadays there's a permanent record, psychological counseling... and they have the surveillance video, too. And it'll come back to haunt you when you apply for a college.
Some things *should* be forgotten, but now they never will. Your library and video-store records can be obtained and used against you in court. There are companies that will scour forums, "social sites", and netnews to find any online comments you might have made. Your cellphone reports wherever it goes, wiretapping and email monitoring are used to gather evidence against you, some employers monitor every keystroke and mouse click as well as mail and internet traffic.
Radio Shack and Kroger are among the most annoying of the retail trackers, but even Wal-Mart does it. Generally, if you pay by check or credit card, your data is eventually sold to someone. You have medical insurance? Your insurer can sell that data to marketers too, though some states do have restrictions on it. Magazine and newspaper subscription lists are considered part of their normal revenue stream. Your cable TV box talks to your provider to tell them what you're watching.
God forbid you apply to a college; they get all your demographics and financials, and aggressively sell the information to anyone and everyone.
Your utility records are an open book to law enforcement. And so are the contents of your trash can. Same with infrared or radar imaging of your house.
Even "private" information like DMV records is only private to individuals. For a grand my state will sell the entire database to anyone at all, on DVD.
Exterior surveillance isn't as widespread as Britain, but most state and government buildings have cameras, stores, even office buildings. "EZ-Pass" tollbooths keep records.
Some cities used to use aerial photography to look for code violations, like unlicensed decks or garden sheds. Now they use Google Earth.
And if I think for a few minutes, I can come up with more examples.
Of course, I've watched all this come together since the early early 1980s. I'd try to tell people about it, and they'd just give me the Look. Yeah, right, whatever. These same people freaked out when the Patriot Act went through, and couldn't understand why I wasn't particularly interested. "You're late to the party, pal. All this stuff has been around for years, all the Act did was tie it together with a pretty knot."
So, what's a private individual to do?
You could go all paranoid or you could be informed and careful. I'm informed and careful, possibly verging on paranoid. I watch what I say online, I don't use employer phones or email for anything not related to my job, I'm aware of (at least some of) the situations where I leave a trail, I know (at least most of) what things might be used against me in court or by an employer.
You don't have to be paranoid. "Cynical amusement" is so much more fun...