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Report warns computers may threaten constitutional rights (1982) (archive.org)
113 points by dredmorbius on May 13, 2017 | hide | past | favorite | 26 comments

I wonder if the people who wrote the report were also considered cuckoo crazy conspiracy theorists then (as Richard Stallman has been since around the same time).

Good thing they gutted it in 1995, I guess. Congress didn't want the public to find out about such facts.

> Criticism of the agency was fueled by Fat City, a 1980 book by Donald Lambro that was regarded favorably by the Reagan administration; it called OTA an "unnecessary agency" that duplicated government work done elsewhere. OTA was abolished (technically "de-funded") in the "Contract with America" period of Newt Gingrich's Republican ascendancy in Congress.

> When the 104th Congress withdrew funding for OTA, it had a full-time staff of 143 people and an annual budget of $21.9 million. The Office of Technology Assessment closed on September 29, 1995. The move was criticized at the time, including by Republican representative Amo Houghton, who commented at the time of OTA’s defunding that "we are cutting off one of the most important arms of Congress when we cut off unbiased knowledge about science and technology".[1]

> Critics of the closure saw it as an example of politics overriding science, and a variety of scientists such as biologist PZ Myers have called for the agency's reinstatement.


Reminded me of the Fat City game on the Apple II:


Never really thought about the name of the game, which involves smashing down buildings.

[1] https://www.amazon.com/Fat-City-Washington-Wastes-Taxes/dp/0...

Thanks for the link. The original post is unreadable on my Android tablet as you can't zoom. Other comments here mention the threat to the first ammendment, I find the one about the 4th as relevant to today:

    The fourth amendment protects the per-
    sons, houses, papers, and effects of in-
    dividuals against unreasonable searches and
    seizures by the Federal Government.
    ● Fourth amendment issues may develop
    —the use of personal and statistical
    data contained in automated informa-
    tion systems as a justification for
    search and seizure;
    —the search and seizure of information
    per se as personal property, particular-
    ly in electronic form; and
    —the use of automated information sys-
    tems as a tool for search and seizure

All the other issues are depressing, the 6th amendment issue is that computer models could be used to predict juror behaviors. What is described as a threat to constitutional rights is depicted as cool in the current TV show "Bull"

That's a very thorough report overall, it evens mentions the issue with software patents:

    The concern that continuing uncertainty about
    copyright and patent protection for
    computer software is significantly im-
    pairing software R&D and innovation.

The irony is that I have to scroll back and forth to view the quotes on my phone because of how quotes are formatted on hn.

People use pre for quotes, for some reason.

I prefer the italics.

I don't think that using the * style of quoting breaks wrapping.

In the menu (three line icon in the upper left) under settings you can zoom in (worked for me on Firefox for Android, anyway).

"Civil rights in the future could be threatened by a bloodless adversary -- the computer.

"That's the opinion of the Congressional Office of Technology Assessment in a 116-page report released late last year.

"'Extensive data collection and possibly surveillance by government and private organizations could, in fact, suppress or 'chill' freedoms of speech, assembly, and even religion by implicit threats contained in such collection or surveillance,' the report said....

"[T]the use of an electronic funds transfer system to gather the same type of information would be far more intrusive, since much more data, some of it of a highly personal nature, could be collected in secret."

John P. Mello, Jr., writing in 1982.

I feel like there needs to be a serious and public debate over the bill of rights and the power of government moving forwards into the future.

Unfortunately, any such debate is tacitly pushed aside every time there's another large attack. 9/11 made the PATRIOT act a no-brainer "yes" for nearly all politicians.

The tides are turning the other way because American hasn't had a mass-death attack since then, but that clock can very easily reset, unfortunately (as much as I hope it never will).

Interestingly, the use of fearmongering and misplaced patriotism by the government to accelerate the other negative impacts of IT on civil rights is about the only thing the article didn't anticipate.

A powerful and disturbing piece of writing.

Just goes to show people will agree to anything under duress. (9/11)

Not just government, but business. And non-business organisations.

Data-as-toxic-waste doesn't discriminate by organisational status.

You can read this issue as a PDF by clicking on the gear icon. This article begins on page 296 of the PDF (page 294 as numbered by the magazine.)

Here is a direct link: https://ia801705.us.archive.org/12/items/80_Microcomputing_I...

Right: this is the Internet Archive, and most materials are downloadable in various formats -- PDF, ePub, DJVU, and with varying degrees of legibility, plain text.

The online reader, if you can read it, is excellent. I'd linked the 2-up version, there's a single-page setting which should work on most mobile devices fairly well.

Relevant & cogent discussion from 1981 Nightline I found on Obscure Media sub-reddit just yesterday. Jobs makes some spot on predictions but managed to avoid speaking too directly on privacy. The author is not nearly as charismatic nor accustomed to speaking on camera/in public... and makes some validated predictions, too.

Intro is a good watch for nostalgia and perspective; relevant Jobs interview starts @ 4:20.


Watching the whole video, you can safely overdub everything Steve Jobs said with the phrase "My words are meaningless, because by the time any of these ideas represent credible threats, I'll be long dead."

Seriously. Everything Steve Jobs says, whatever point he argues in favor of, listening to it is like letting the dead sell you cigarettes.

"Here, try this amazing thing! Yes it's bad for you in all the ways described by critics, but so what?! I need to live an incredible life right now, before a terminal disease kills me (just as the bad times begin), so give me as much money as possible."

What the fuck?

The prescience:wordcount ratio in that article is incredible. If I may ask the OP: how did it come to your attention?

A friend posted it to Mastodon.

He's been reviewing old computer periodicals, reliving his misspent youth.


For those interested in early explorations of computers, rights, and privacy, there was another large survey article published in a magazine ... sometime in the early 1970s which for the life of me I cannot find now.

It detailed government and business computer use, and was early, closeer to 1970 than 1980 as I recall. Several pages, fairly prescient and well written.

If anyon can reecognize the piece from an admittedly vague description, I'd appreciate a link. I've seen it online, if that helps.

Maybe one of these?

Computers, Personnel Information, and Citizens Rights: https://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/GOVPUB-C13-4a2389174326d372218...

Privacy and Security Issues in Information Systems: https://www.rand.org/content/dam/rand/pubs/papers/2008/P5684...

Computer Matching Programs, a threat to privacy? http://heinonline.org/HOL/LandingPage?handle=hein.journals/c...

Thanks, but no.

It's a popular commercial press article. Might have been a long-form newspaper report, but I think it was within a fairly mainstream magazine. Not Time or Newsweek, but more like a Harpers or Atlantic piece.

I'm pretty sure I've commented on this ... somewhere, sometime, so it may be at one of my usual haunts: here, G+, possibly Reddit, under my usual handles. I'm poking through those.

The rich can win trials... "Before a trial, attorneys for both sides routinely obtain the names of potential jurors on the day of jury selection. It’s now possible using big-data sources to flag or score potential jurors on certain factors—fiscal and social ideology, for examply, or on attitudes relevant to liability or damages—enabling lawyers to make exceedingly nuanced strikes.

Freakily accurate predictions of the future.

32K of storage for only $299? Wow, just what my color computer needed.

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