Writing in Playboy in 1968, Alan Westin predicted that in just seven short years, improved techniques in computerized data gathering would result in "a record-control society that could make George Orwell's Oceania almost look like a haven of privacy." We've got a few spookily familiar moments from his dystopian vision of the future, below.
- Typical citizen Roger M. Smith commutes to work on a turnpike. When he reaches the tollgate, "his license plate is automatically scanned by a television camera and his number is sent instantaneously to an on-line computer containing lists of wanted persons, stolen cars, and traffic-ticket violators." If the scan registers a hit, "police stationed 100 yards along the turnpike will have the signal before Smith's car reaches that position."
- Meanwhile, back at the tollgate, Roger "places his right thumb in front of a scanning camera. At the same time, he recites into the unit's microphone" his name and national I.D. number, "the initial performance of a ritual that will be repeated" throughout the day.
- That's because voiceprint, thumbprint, and I.D. number will be used in lieu of cash. "Money has been eliminated except for pocket-change transactions."
- One "byproduct of the cashless society is that every significant movement and transaction of Roger Smith's life has produced a permanent record in the computer memory system. As he spends, uses and travels, he leaves an intransmutable and centralized documentary trail behind him."
- In 1975, for every person in the U.S., there are "four master files": educational records, employment history, financial history, and the all-important "national citizenship file. . . . a unified Federal-state-local dossier that contains all of Roger's life history that is ‘of relevance' to Government. In 1975, that is quite a broad category."
- Westin went on to describe how new "laser memory system" technology meant that "a single 4800-foot reel of one-inch tape could contain about 20 double-spaced typed pages of data on every person in the United States-man, woman and child."
Westin remains a leading authority on privacy issues.