Sunday, March 04, 2012

1970s view of privacy

Netflix carries the TV classic from the 70s, The Rockford Files, about the Los Angeles-based private investigator, Jim Rockford.   The final episode of season 4, "The House on Willis Avenue" has a plot that is perhaps rapidly becoming incomprehensible to us (alert: possible spoiler ahead).

What Rockford uncovers in this story is perhaps best summarized by this statement given by an official towards the end of the episode:
 "We're still trying to unravel exactly what was going on. It appears to be that Mr. McGregor and the two men arrested with him, were attempting to set up a secret system of computers which would carry the personal records of some two hundred million Americans.  When we get more, we'll issue a public statement."

and the commentary by the TV news anchor after this:
"It gives one pause.  It's one thing for government to have us categorized and computerized. But why does a company install a secret, underground computer center right in the middle of one of the world's largest cities? Why indeed?"
At the end of the show, this appears:

( Secret information centers, building dossiers on individuals exist today.  You have no legal right to know about them, prevent them, or sue for damages.  Our liberty may well be the price we pay for permitting this to continue unchecked.  - Member, US Privacy Protection Commission.)

Rockford Files

Seems to me that today, the federal government has all of the above - secret information centers, dossiers on individuals, storing and scanning of all telephone and email traffic, etc.  Lots of corporations also do build dossiers on individuals, though supposedly we know about them, and even voluntarily feed them, e.g., Facebook, Google, ....

Today, a company building such a data center in a town would be welcomed by the town as a job provider.....