The Origin of Fair Information Practices: Archive of the Meetings of the Secretary's Advisory Committee on Automated Personal Data Systems (SACAPDS)
16 Pages Posted: 16 Jul 2014 Last revised: 13 Jan 2016
Date Written: July 15, 2014
This paper summarizes transcripts of six of the meetings of the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare (HEW) Secretary's Advisory Committee on Automated Personal Data Systems (SACAPDS). This committee developed the landmark 1973 Records, Computers and the Rights of Citizens, Report of the Secretary's Advisory Committee on Automated Personal Data Systems, known as the HEW Report. Privacy expert Robert Gellman has noted that the HEW Report was the origin of "Fair Information Practices," a set of principles that formed the basis for modern privacy legislation.
The SACAPDS heard from dozens of witnesses, many of whom discussed large-scale government information collection programs that were essential for the delivery of some social good. The witnesses earnestly discussed the ways in which they tried to incorporate confidentiality and data security into these files, but often for sake of administrative efficiency and unique enumeration, these different programs used the Social Security Number (SSN) to track individuals. Some made guarantees of confidentiality without any legal basis for it. Others operated systems with no accountability controls at all. By 1972, committee members lamented that the widespread use of the SSN in the public sector was mirrored in the private marketplace, and that it was practically impossible to function in society without providing the SSN to numerous businesses.
Reading the transcripts, it is striking how little conversations about privacy have changed in forty years. Tensions among interests in efficiency, law enforcement, cost, access to knowledge and freedom of information, federalism, the vagueness of the term "privacy," eroding practical obscurity of public records, accountability, pragmatic system design, limitations of anonymization and the problem of re-identification, fraud and risk, the incredible complexity in the provision of benefits, the needs of a large and complex administrative state, centralization versus devolved systems, and individual rights appear many times in the committee’s discussion.
On June 7, 1972, just before the group’s third meeting, a subcommittee of the group (Dr. Grommers, Layman Allen, Arthur R. Miller, Joseph Weizenbaum, Carole Parsons, and David Martin) circulated a memo titled, "Draft Thematic Outline of Report of Secretary's Advisory Committee on Automated Personal Data Systems." The five page memo contained the skeleton of what we call fair information practices today. The last page of the document details, "Procedures to protect individuals in relation to the use of automated personal data systems," and concludes with an outline of penalties for infringements of these rights in addition to compensatory and punitive damages for victims.
SACAPDS met nine times between 1972-3, often near the NIH campus or at the campus’ Stone House. They had to give their SSN to satisfy the NIH campus security rules. They worked very hard, on weekends and often late into the night. Transcripts, ephemera, and other information about SACAPDS are available in Dr. Willis Ware’s papers archive (1972-1977), maintained by the University of Minnesota. Please note that these transcripts are uncorrected and that when scanned, automated character recognition was used and this OCR is uncorrected.
Keywords: Information privacy, Fair Information Practices, HEW, SSN, criminal justice information systems, credit reporting, medical information bureau, FOIA, public records
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