Friday, January 17, 2014

SHFG to Hear Lecture on Data Collection and Privacy Rights

The Society for History in the Federal Government's Annual Richard G. Hewlett Lecture and Dinner will be held at Clyde’s of Gallery Place, 707 7th St. NW, Washington, DC, 6:00–9:00 pm, Wednesday, January 22, 2014.  The cost is, for members, $55, for nonmembers, $65 and for students, $35.  RSVP here.

The title of this years lecture is “The Historian and Our Crisis of Data Collection vs. Privacy Rights.”  It will be delivered by Margo Anderson, Distinguished Professor of History at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, who will
discuss some of the historical precedents for the current controversies surrounding data collection and privacy issues, focusing particularly on the “dark side” of numbers, particularly the use of census data to plan and manage the evacuation and incarceration of Japanese ancestry Americans during World War II, the “databank” controversy of the 1960s, and the development of the laws and ethical standards defining the management of information.

She will also discuss the critical role of historians, archivists, and historical institutions in preserving the evidence of past misuses of data, so that we have the wherewithal to put current discussions, such as those surrounding the NSA revelations, into a larger context of American history.

The recent revelations surrounding the activities of the National Security Agency collecting information on the phone calls and internet communications of Americans remind us of the power of the state to collect and process information about Americans.  Does such data collection make us freer, safer, happier?  Or does it threaten our privacy, constrain our freedom, control our activities?

As a nation and people, we have always been of two minds about these matters.  We are, after all, the people who mandated in our founding constitution that the national government conduct a decennial population census for the purpose of apportioning representation among the states in Congress.  And in the very first census statute Congress required that people respond to the census!  But we are also a people who have refused to institute any form of national identity system, even in wartime, have insisted on our privacy rights, and are now outraged by the revelations of the recent activities of the NSA.   In a nutshell, personal information can be used for our benefit or our peril.
Hat tip: H-Law