THE NATIONAL DATA CENTER AND PERSONAL PRIVACY (Nov, 1967)
I can’t tell you how excited I was when I found this magazine on eBay. I thought that the author was this Arthur Miller. An article about the personal privacy threats inherent in massive government databases, written by the author of the Crucible sounded amazing. It turns out that the author was actually this Arthur Miller, and I don’t think anyone could have done a better job.
This is the most amazingly prescient article I’ve ever read. When people write about the future they are usually wrong. When people write about the future of computers, they are usually even more wrong. This article got everything right. If you changed the tense and a few bits of jargon, then handed to me and told me it was written by the EFF, I’d believe it.
Just to give you an idea of how right he was on even the basic computer stuff, here’s the second paragraph of the article. Keep in mind that this is what desktop computers looked like in 1967.
“The modern computer is more than a sophisticated indexing or adding machine, or a miniaturized library; it is the keystone for a new communications medium whose capacities and implications we are only beginning to realize. In the foreseeable future, computer systems will be tied together by television, satellites, and lasers, and we will move large quantities of information over vast distances in imperceptible units of time.”
Forty-one years ago Arthur R. Miller laid out all of the privacy threats that we face now. The power that credit reporting databases have over us. The illegal government use of our financial and phone records. The attempt to build a master database tying all of these together. The fact that the government might consider you a threat if you so much as sent a Christmas card to someone the government has on a watch list. It’s all here. He basically predicted and laid out all of the arguments against the Total Information Awareness program and the current NSA programs that have been so much in the news.
It’s nice to know there were people who were so ahead of the curve in trying to protect our rights, and it’s a tragedy that more people didn’t listen. I think it speaks strongly to the need to pay attention to this stuff now, because this problem will only get worse.
THE NATIONAL DATA CENTER AND PERSONAL PRIVACY
by ARTHUR R. MILLER
The computer age is not to be stayed, as anyone knows who has been billed for another citizen’s charge account or has wondered what has happened to his paid-up magazine subscription. The computer science is already so advanced that experts envisage a huge National Data Center to speed and simplify the collection of pertinent information about Americans. Properly run, it could be a boon. But any person who has seen an FBI file or been party to a U.S. government “security check” has reason to know how the abuse or misuse of dossiers of unevaluated information can threaten an individual’s rights. A professor of law at the University of Michigan here discusses the precautions necessary to protect citizens from “governmental snooping and bureaucratic spinelessness or perfidy.”