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Database Nation by Simson Garfinkel

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Chapter 2. Database Nation

WASHINGTON, D.C., 1965. The Bureau of the Budget's proposal was simple yet revolutionary. Instead of each federal agency's investing in computers, storage technology, and operations personnel, the United States government would build a single National Data Center . The project would start by storing records from four federal agencies: population and housing data from the Bureau of the Census; employment information from the Bureau of Labor Statistics; tax information from the Internal Revenue Service; and benefit information from the Social Security Administration. Eventually, it would store far more.

While the original motivation was simply to cut costs, it soon became clear that there would be additional benefits. Accurate statistics could be created quickly and precisely from the nation's data. By building a single national database, the government could track down and stamp out the misspelled names and other inconsistent information that haunts large-scale databank projects. A single database would also let government officials and even outsiders use the data in the most efficient manner possible.

The Princeton Institute for Advanced Study issued a report enthusiastically supporting the databank project, saying that centralized storage of the records could actually improve the security of the information, and therefore the privacy of the nation. Carl Kaysen, the Institute's director and the chairman of the study group, further urged that Congress pass ...

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