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The Right to be Let Alone (1975)

by Gerald S. Snyder

The title comes from a quotation that has long been one of my favorites: "The right to be let alone is the underlying principle of the Constitution's Bill of Rights" (Erwin N. Griswold). Written a quarter-century ago, this book made a pretty depressing case for how things would look at Buy this book the end of the millenium. Unfortunately, it turned out to have been depressingly accurate. The following quotations come from the book's final chapter, "Nearing the Year 2000: The Future of Privacy":

As for privacy, it is especially difficult to predict its status in the future. For privacy is a value, not a thing. And, as such, its future is dependent on people's desires and attitudes, which are subject to change. Just consider, for example, what might happen as we become more reliant upon the computer to do things for us. Is it not possible that someday we might become insensitive to the computer's intrusions into our privacy?


Machines -- mainly computers -- hold almost unlimited possibilities for invading privacy. We have already seen how it is possible to put a person under surveillance without his knowledge. By 2000, as technology continues to improve, it should be much easier. And as the government, in order to carry out its expanding welfare programs, puts more and more information about people's tastes, living habits and personalities into computers, we could be moving toward, as someone has remarked, "a computerized dictatorship."

(See the bottom of the page for information about the FDIC's "Know Your Customer" program and how you can help stop it.)

By 2000, a computer might be able to recognize a photograph of your face. File copies of photos used on drivers' licenses could be classified and sorted like numerical data, making computerized "face-searches" a real possibility.

(Just this year states began selling the drivers' license photos of citizens for this very purpose. For more information, follow the link at the bottom of the page.)

By 2000 there should be enough elaborate technical safeguards to protect against any outrageous abuse of the systems.

(Except when it is the government that is performing the outrages, no remedy is sufficient except reducing the government to its constitutionally-defined bounds and destroying the government's power to collect and store information.)

ONE WEEK REMAINS let the FDIC know what you think about being spied on and informed on without cause (the so-called "Know Your Customer" regulations.
The deadline is 8 March, 1999.

Defend Your Privacy! Visit

State governments sell drivers' license photos!

See also The Pursuit of Liberty