Solving the Problems
In their book Databanks in a Free Society ( 1972), Alan Westin and Michael Baker presented the results of an important study in which they examined the record-keeping policies and practices of several organizations. At that time, they found that privacy advocates' fears of extensive and intrusive databanks had not yet come to pass. They stated: "Our basic finding is quite strong -- the organizations that we visited have not extended the scope of their information collection about individuals as a direct result of computerization [italics in original]." But they also noted that technology was making the sharing of records much more feasible, and they offered several insightful recommendations to help organizations prepare for the future.1 By 1977, when the PPSC conducted its exhaustive study of numerous industries, computerization had enabled quite a few instances of intrusive corporate behavior, and the PPSC detailed a number of recommendations for improving the balance between society's needs and individuals' privacy desires. However, during the 1980s most of the PPSC's recommendations were ignored, although the technological strides of this decade made the commercial collection, use, and sharing of individual-specific information even more economical and feasible. Consequently, corporate uses of personal information grew by leaps and bounds during this period, with relatively little governmental control and with large zones of ambiguity regarding appropriate and inappropriate behavior.
By the late 1980s and early 1990s, when the latest "privacy scare" began to erupt and when this study was conducted, many corporations' policies were outdated, and their practices were often inconsistent with the policies they did have in place. Having been awakened to varying degrees by the growing power and vocal expression of the privacy coalition, they now find themselves taking defen