Records, Computers and the Rights of Citizens. II. Latent Effects of Computer-based Record Keeping


The dangers latent in the spread of computer-based personal-data record keeping stem, in our view, from three effects of computers and computer-related technology on an organization's recordkeeping practices.

  • Computerization enables an organization to enlarge its data-processing capacity substantially.
  • Computerization greatly facilitates access to personal data within a single organization, and across boundaries that separate organizational entities.
  • Computerization creates a new class of record keepers whose functions are technical and whose contact with original suppliers and ultimate users of personal data are often remote.

These three effects on personal-data record-keeping are seldom observed in isolation from one another. Indeed, they are usually interdependent and may acquire a self-reinforcing momentum. The discussion that follows is focused on their potentially adverse consequences for individuals, for organizations, and for the society as a whole. It concentrates on aspects of computer-based record keeping that. highlight the influence of the technology, but also recognizes that organizational objectives, bureaucratic behavior, and public attitudes account in part for many of the potentially undesirable effects we have identified.