The Best of Creative Computing Volume 1 (published 1976)

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How Much Privacy Should You Have? (Line between personal freedom and public security)

graphic of page

The Fine Line between Personal Freedom and Public Security

How Much Privacy Should You Have?

by Alan Westin

Have you ever wondered what information about you is in the files of large
federal service agencies such as Social Security, the Veteran's Administration,
or the Agriculture Department?

If you once served in the armed forces or worked for the federal government,
have you wondered what ratings or evaluations were made about you, and to whom
these have been released?

If you have applied for any license administered by the federal government - to
the Federal Aviation Agency as a pilot or to the Coast Guard as a boat owner -
have you wondered what other government agencies or private organizations get
access to the personal informa-

Reprinted courtesy United Airlines Mainliner Magazine. Copyright 1975 East/West
Network, lnc.

tion you supplied?

If you were ever arrested - including arrests for civil rights protests,
political demonstrations, or marijuana offenses have you felt worried about the
FBI's dissemination of that information to local and state licensing bodies,
bonding agencies, banks, or local police departments?

If you work for a business covered by federal equal employment opportunity
regulations, do you know how your minority designation is listed, and what is
done with it?

Have your children been part of a federally funded social research project in
school? If so, were you ever told what future uses would be made of the personal
and family data that was collected?

Do you find yourself wondering sometimes what federal records may have been
opened about you that you don't even know about - by the Internal Revenue
Service, Army Intelligence, the Passport Office or even the White House?

Finally, have you ever asked to see what was in a federal agency's file about
you, and did agency officials make it difficult or even impossible for you to do

If such concerns about the federal government's collection and use of personal
information have occurred to you over the past few Watergate-shrouded years, or

Dr. Alan Westin is a professor at Columbia University, New York. As an expert
witness on privacy he has written extensively an the subject and testified
before several Senate committees.


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