Wednesday, September 17, 2014

When the Government Wanted a Database of Everyone's IQ

Today people worry about NSA spying. Fifty years ago it was intelligence tests. The conversation hasn't changed. 

 

In November of 1967, The Atlantic's cover featured an evil Uncle Sam generating data readouts in a dark control room. The journalist behind the cover story, Arthur Miller, noted at the time that computer science was already so advanced "that experts envisage a huge National Data Center to speed and simplify the collection of pertinent information about Americans." Almost 50 years later U.S. law enforcement opened a secretive multi-billion dollar, million-square-foot data center in the mountains of Utah.

In the piece, Miller also worried about the potential abuse and, more importantly, the mistakes of surveillance:
As a result, someone who simply exchanges Christmas cards with a person whose mail is being monitored might find himself under surveillance or might be turned down when he applies for a job with the government or requests a government grant or applies for some other governmental benefit. An untested, impersonal, and erroneous computer entry such as 'associates with known criminals' has marked him, and he is helpless to rectify the situation. Indeed, it is likely that he would not even be aware that the entry existed.
Sounds somewhat familiar, eh? The debate over privacy has cracked the mainstream spotlight once again in recent years with Edward Snowden's leaks about the extent of law enforcement surveillance and companies like Facebook and Google using the world's most advanced computers to learn about people in order to deliver advertisements. But the concerns about quantitative interpretations of people have been around for a long time. In the 1960’s, people weren’t worried about vast internet spying, of course—instead, they were worried about IQ tests.

For the rest of the story: http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2014/09/from-iq-tests-to-the-nsa-fifty-years-of-worrying-about-private-data/380330//

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