Written in 1967, Privacy and Freedom was a book ahead of its time — and so was Columbia professor Alan Westin’s skepticism about big data. At the time, the computer age was just dawning and personal computers had yet to catch on. Even so, Westin already foresaw a world where privacy was at risk and where the implications of that threat were unnerving.
Westin’s work was fundamental to developing the Federal Trade Commission’s Fair Information Practice Principles (FIPP) in the 1970s. When it comes to collecting personal data, the FIPP established early recommendations about notification, consent and more.
While the technical aspects of Westin’s book may be outdated, the fundamental arguments are as timely as ever. From college classrooms to government halls, his insights are still used in debates about privacy and to justify why it’s crucial that we protect it. As more people today sacrifice privacy for convenience, Westin’s serves as a reminder of why that tradeoff warrants closer examination.
Law professor and international privacy expert Daniel J. Solove, who wrote the forward for the most recent edition of Privacy and Freedom, calls it one of “the most influential privacy works ever written.”