Records, Computers and the Rights of Citizens

by Willis H. Ware

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A discussion of recordkeeping practices of government and private agencies that collect personal information and of the opportunities for misuse of such information due to its concentration within computer files at one location and its accessibility through remote access terminals. The discussion draws on the findings of the Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare's Advisory Committee on Automated Personal Data Systems, established in 1972 to determine the harmful consequences that might result from automated personal data systems and to make recommendations for safeguarding the citizen's rights to personal privacy. Among the solutions suggested is a Code of Fair Information Practice to be created by legislation and applicable to all automated personal data systems. The Code would provide both civil and criminal penalties for unfair information practice. The policy and practice of using Social Security numbers as identifiers and their role in the dissemination of personal information are also discussed.

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