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The Assault on Privacy

Arthur R. Miller

Originally published in 1971, this is a classic and frightening analysis of the clash between individual privacy and information-gathering technology in the modern age.


The Bottom Line

You may think that the data privacy debate is a contemporary issue. And yet, as far back as the 1960s, as governments explored how to computerize files including potentially sensitive personal information, several figures rose to prominence to share their concerns and sound an alarm. Lawyer and professor Arthur R. Miller was among them, and could reasonably be called one of the “forefathers” of modern privacy law. In his influential book, Assault on Privacy, he issued a call to arms to protect personal privacy in the face of powerful new technology.

I. Introduction

In 1971, the same year that the world’s first personal computer was released, Arthur Miller published a book about the potential threat the technology posed to individuals’ privacy. To say that the man was ahead of his time is an understatement.

The book is full of prescient predictions, like pondering whether newspapers and magazines might one day be accessed virtually, whether computers and electronic information systems would one day replace brick and mortar libraries, and whether we would one day be able to use computers to connect to international data networks.

Miller first dabbled in the subject when asked a question about how copyright law would apply to information being placed on computer networks. Later, in 1967, he was called to testify to Congress about the effect that computers could one day have on individual privacy. That testimony set him up as an expert in the field, while at the same time causing him to realize just how much he didn’t understand about the underlying technologies.

Acknowledging that his expertise lies in law and not information systems, The Assault on Privacy represents Miller’s extraordinary effort to gain an understanding of how fundamentally information technology could change our experience of and control over personal privacy.

II. Privacy in the Computer Age

III. Negative Data Can Trail You Forever

IV. The Unforgiving Watchdog

V. Call for Legal Reform

VI. The Power of Public Opinion

VII. The Tortoise and the Hare

The Takeaway


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