Data Banks, Privacy, and Society

by Willis H. Ware

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The growing number of automated personal data files, collected for different purposes, can be linked to obtain individual dossiers, especially using Social Security numbers. Incomplete or erroneous information may be included; personal information in public records is accessible to all; and most files are subject to court seizure. Individuals have little or no control over the dissemination of information concerning them. The technical problems of designing and implementing information systems that deliver information only to authorized users are being researched to protect defense classified data. The larger questions remain: What data should be collected by whom for what, and who should have access to it? Certifying information system personnel may help reduce leakage, but is no solution. An ombudsman lacks enforcement power. A promising solution is a Federal Code of Fair Information Practices to be enforced by existing legal/judicial procedures. Federal regulation should be used only as a last resort. (Reprinted from the RAND 25th Anniversary volume.)

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