Records, Computers, and the Rights of Citizens: Report of the Secretary's Advisory Committee on Automated Personal Data Systemsby U. S. Department of Heath, Education, and Welfare, Elliot L. Richardson, Caspar W. Weinberger
In a Foreword to this book, Elliot Richardson writes that "It is increasingly necessary for people to have information about themselves collected, stored, and used by organizations maintaining computer-based record-keeping systems. As a worker, as a student, as a patient, as a taxpayer, as a bank depositer, as the owner or driver of a car, as a welfare recipient, as one ticketed for even a minor parking violation—it is practically impossible to avoid becoming the subject of a record....
"However, so long as man—as an individual, in families, in larger groups, and in society—is not a purely rational creature, so long as American society prizes the individuality and the humane qualities of man and his associations, and so long as we continue to celebrate some uncertainty and mystery in our lives, we must learn to temper this particular technological application with sensitive concern for due process and the average citizen's wish to be let alone."
It was with these considerations in mind that Richardson, then HEW Secretary, established an advisory committee on automated personal data systems. It consisted of 27 participants and included social service professionals, managers from the private sector, public sector administrators, elected officials, academics, lawyers, and private citizens. It was asked to study and make recommendations about:
Harmful consequences that may result from using automated personal data systems;
Safeguards that might protect against potentially harmful consequences;
Measures that might afford redress for any harmful consequences;
Policy and practice relating to the issuance and use of Social Security numbers.
This book represents the Committee's report to the Secretary and to the nation. It compiles and analyzes the data that have been collected on its subject, scales the historic, legal, and social dimensions of the question, and judiciously sorts out the inherent conflicts between society's (or an organization's) legitimate need to know and the individual's right to privacy. One of the basic conclusions reached is that "Under current law, a person's privacy is poorly protected against arbitrary or abusive record-keeping practices." Accordingly, the report recommends the enactment of a Federal "Code of Fair Information Practice" enforceable against all automated personal data systems, governmental and private. The Code would be designed in such a way that it would guard against specific abuses and yet be sufficiently flexible to encompass unforeseen developments in computer technology. In particular, the report examines the implications of a "standard universal identifier" and opposes the establishment of such an identification scheme at this time. After reviewing the drift toward using the Social Security number as a de facto all-purpose personal identifier, the Committee recommends steps to curtail that drift.
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