When reading the articles belonging to the magazine covers in the exhibit Privacy: Cover to Cover, it can be mind blowing how, with a few replaced words, they could be republished today and be completely on point. Take this quote from a 1966 LIFE magazine article by John Neary: “The technology of snooping has so outdistanced the law that controls are all but nonexistent.” Amazing, right? Makes those “You’ve come a long way, baby” ads from the same time period somewhat less relevant.
And In 1971, Ralph Nader refers to the “dossier industry,” which sounds remarkably like the data aggregators of today.
The winner, however, might be this one from Richard Boeth: “Somewhere in the roil of expanding population, vast economy, foliating technology and chronic world crisis, individual Americans have begun to surrender both the sense and the reality of their own right to privacy—and their reaction to the loss has been slow and piecemeal.”
Slow? You have no idea, Mr. Boeth. Forty-five years later, you wouldn’t need to change a word.
Enjoy some more excerpts below from the cover stories featured in Privacy: Cover to Cover, an exhibit of magazine covers from 1966 to present time on display at this year’s IAPP Global Privacy Summit.
“The Big Snoop,” by John Neary
LIFE Magazine, Friday, May 20, 1966
“The technology of snooping has so outdistanced the law that controls are all but nonexistent,” writes John Neary, adding, “bugging is so shockingly widespread and so increasingly insidious that no one can be certain any longer that his home is his castle - free of intrusion.” The article details the “the phenomenon, which, long before Orwell's 1984, presages what Senator Edward V. Long (D - MO) has called ‘a naked society, where every citizen is a denizen in a goldfish bowl.’”
“The National Data Center and Personal Privacy,” by Arthur Miller
The Atlantic, Wednesday, November 1, 1967
“The computer science is already so advanced that experts envisage a huge National Data Center to speed and simplify the collection of pertinent information about Americans. Properly run, it could be a boon. But any person who has seen an FBI file or been party to a U.S. government ‘security check’ has reason to know how the abuse or misuse of dossiers of unevaluated information can threaten an individual’s rights,” Miller writes. He goes on to discuss issues of access, accuracy, data linkage, and more—not using those terms, of course, because they weren’t yet coined. Miller calls for a federal law to protect the public from data misuse, providing the public a way to correct inaccuracies, software solutions to limit access and a way to record and track access.
“The Assault on Privacy,” by Richard Boeth
Newsweek, July 27, 1970
In this article, Richard Boeth follows the story of a man denied credit due to lawsuits that named him, in his position at the state labor department, as either plaintiff or defendant. “In the circumstances, and given the happy ending, the whole incident could be looked at—and laughed off—as a mostly comical contretemps between modern man and his complex society. But encounters of the sort have proliferated to a point where the elemental right to privacy stands in serious danger—where some concerned Americans are in fact asking whether it may not be dying.” Listing tens of public and private entities collecting personal data, Boeth acknowledges the need for the collecting, but says, “somewhere in the roil of expanding population, vast economy, foliating technology and chronic world crisis, individual Americans have begun to surrender both the sense and the reality of their own right to privacy—and their reaction to the loss has been slow and piecemeal.”
“The Dossier Invades the Home,” by Ralph Nader
The Saturday Review, April 17, 1971
“It is the rare American who does not live in the shadow of his dossier. The ‘dossier industry’ is a huge and growing business,” writes Ralph Nader. Pointing to the tens-of-millions of files held by the credit industry giants of the day, Nader notes these companies “are not accountable to anyone except those who seek to purchase information. Further, for reasons of profit, these companies place a premium on the derogatory information they assemble.” He acknowledges the benefits of the about-to-be-enacted Fair Credit Reporting Act, but because people still won’t have control over what information is included in dossiers, he recommends an “’information bill of rights’ that protects [people] against an invasion of privacy through information dissemination.”
“Nowhere To Hide,” by Richard Lacayo
Time, Monday, November 11, 1991
“If ‘mind your own business’ has long been a prime tenet of the national philosophy, ‘Let it all hang out’ is now running a close second,” writes Lacayo in 1991. “It’s hard to find a national consensus on confidentiality in a nation of tell-all memoirs, inquiring pollsters and talk shows.” Lacayo writes about the behavioral targeting that existed, quoting then-president of Donnelly Marketing, “one of the nation’s largest list compliers,” as saying, “We’re matchmakers … We make sure companies don’t sell lawnmowers to people in high-rises.” The article also touches on faulty credit reporting, employee monitoring, background checks, government surveillance and a “new phone service called caller I.D.”
(Subscription required to view article online here.)
“Crypto Rebels,” by Steven Levy
Wired, May/June 1993
The invention of public-key encryption by Whitfield Diffie, who also predicted the development of digital communication and therefore the need for digital signatures, and then Phil Zimmerman’s invention of PGP, set the stage for the “Crypto-Rebels” featured in this Wired article. “The people in this room hope for a world where an individual's informational footprints—everything from an opinion on abortion to the medical record of an actual abortion—can be traced only if the individual involved chooses to reveal them; a world where coherent messages shoot around the globe by network and microwave, but intruders and feds trying to pluck them out of the vapor find only gibberish; a world where the tools of prying are transformed into the instruments of privacy.”
“Who’s Out There Watching You?,” by Josh Quittner
TIME, August 25, 1997
Josh Quittner writes about the incident that made him actually care about privacy, “And as I watched my personal digital hell unfold, it struck me that our privacy--mine and yours--has already disappeared, not in one Big Brotherly blitzkrieg but in Little Brotherly moments, bit by bit.” Previously, Quittner had been okay with the trade of privacy for convenience, safety, services, etc., but having his private space invaded by a hacker left him feeling powerless. “What would happen if all the information stored on the world's computers were accessible via the Internet to anyone? Who would own it? Who would control it? Who would protect it from abuse? … I don't want to be cut off from the world. I have nothing to hide. I just want some measure of control over what people know about me.”
“The Eroded Self,” by Jeffrey Rosen
The New York Times Magazine, April 30, 2000
“In cyberspace, there is no real wall between public and private. And the version of you being constructed out there - from bits and pieces of stray data - is probably not who you think you are,” writes Jeff Rosen in this article.
“Internet Insecurity,” by Adam Cohen
TIME, July 2, 2001
Showing how easy it is to infiltrate a computer, Cohen did just that to his colleague’s. Citing a TIME/CNN poll stating 61 percent of respondents are “very” or “somewhat” concerned that information about their Internet usage was being collected without their knowledge, Cohen says “Internet users are well aware they are trading off privacy when they dial up their modem.” He then goes on to outline nine threats to online privacy—from identity theft to cookie use to fake websites to cyber-stalkers—and how individuals can defend themselves.
(Subscription required to view article online here.)
“The Prism: Privacy in an Age of Publicity,” by Jill Lepore
The New Yorker, June 24, 2013
In discussing the National Security Agency’s (NSA) surveillance scandal of 2013, Lepore brings readers back to 1844 when Giuseppe Mazzini, “an Italian exile in London, became convinced that the British government was opening his mail.” The incident inspired a public uproar, revealed (and ultimately abolished) the Secret Department of the Post Office and “like the revelations that the NSA has been monitoring telephone, e-mail, and Internet use, illustrates the intricacy of the relationship between secrecy and privacy,” adding, “As a matter of historical analysis, the relationship between secrecy and privacy can be stated in an axiom: the defense of privacy follows, and never precedes, the emergence of new technologies for the exposure of secrets. In other words, the case for privacy always comes too late. The horse is out of the barn.”
Special War on Privacy Issue
Mad, October 2013
This issue includes a typically Mad poll on “What do terrorists think of the NSA having access to their Internet and phone records?” including answers like, “Feel they have nothing to hide because they know better than to put sensitive terrorism planning in an email” and “feel jealous of how easily the NSA is spreading fear and mistrust.” And its “Chilling Thoughts 2013 Edition” includes a comic stating “Those quiet moments inside our mother’s womb, just before you’re spotted by the sonogram, are the last of your life you’ll ever spend away from video surveillance.”
“The Most Wanted Man in the World,” by James Bamford
Wired, September 2014
Permitted an interview with Edward Snowden, the “Most Wanted Man in the World,” Bamford recounts the way most people have experienced him, disembodied, on a screen as “a sort of Big Brother in reverse: Orwell’s Winston Smith, the low-ranking party functionary, suddenly dominating telescreens throughout Oceania with messages promoting encryption and denouncing encroachments on privacy.” Over three days in a Russian hotel the two discuss the reason Snowden revealed the NSA’s surveillance practices, his public profile and his personal life.