1967 Article on Data Privacy and Security

An eerily prescient article from The Atlantic in 1967 about the future of data privacy. It presents all of the basic arguments for strict controls on data collection of personal information, and it’s remarkably accurate in it’s predictions of the future development and importance of computers as well all of all of the ways the government would abuse them.

Well worth reading.

Posted on April 3, 2008 at 6:35 AM12 Comments


Wicked Lad April 3, 2008 8:17 AM

Aw, shoot, when I saw Bob & Ray’s names at the top, I thought it was going to turn out they wrote the article in question.

Cole April 3, 2008 9:25 AM

Could you not replace “National Data Center” with “Real ID” and be where we are today? Miller must have traveled to 2008 and wrote the article when he got back to 1968.

Stephen Smoogen April 3, 2008 9:33 AM


As much as I like to buy into the faceless government that manipulates day in and dayout.. it all ends up with people trying to get away with something. It doesn’t matter if they are working Ma&Pa’s corner store or in the government, there is always people who will manipulate the system and look at other people’s personal data. And for all the power the government has these days, Visa has more and it has more data on you too :).

moo April 3, 2008 11:20 AM

Very interesting. Unfortunately, people will not realize the importance of their privacy (or the importance of their civil rights and freedoms) until it is gone.

And at that point, getting them back is likely to become a long and bloody affair.

ZaD MoFo April 3, 2008 11:34 AM

Did Georges Orwell had imagination or a premonition when he wrote – 1984 -?

So now, let’s “foresee” what might happen in the next twenty years…

Kevin D. S. April 3, 2008 3:02 PM

Another interesting (but LONGER) read from 1967 is “Privacy and Freedom” by Alan Westin. Both publications seem to reflect the same issues we have to this day. I guess technology has moved along but we still haven’t come to grips with the concept of “privacy.”

Westin, A. (1967). Privacy and Freedom. New York, NY: Atheneum.

HAL April 4, 2008 12:20 PM

WASHINGTON — Technology problems will force the government to count all of the nation’s 300 million residents the old-fashioned way in the 2010 census — with paper and pencil. …

Personally I would use punch cards and scanners. It’s a quick way to get field data into the computer networks.
Punched cards were first used around 1725. It’s proven technology.

Jim Horning April 10, 2008 8:50 PM

There is something strange about this prescient article: I have not been able to locate it in The Atlantic’s online archive, which supposedly goes all the way back to 1857.

So there’s a provenance issue, and also an issue of an unrelated website republishing a complete article, with no indication of permission from the copyright holder. I would have expected a link to the original article, rather than a set of page images.

Jim H.

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