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Database Nation by Simson Garfinkel

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Conclusion

Predicting the future has always been a risky business. There are simply too many ways in which unforeseen events can invalidate even the most likely story of what lies ahead. When I was a child, my mother explained the situation succinctly with an old Yiddish proverb: "Man plans and God laughs."

And yet, predicting the future and making plans is something we humans must do in order to ensure our survival. For millennia, we planned for the lean months of winter by sowing crops in the spring and reaping them in the fall. We plan and construct massive civil works projects to control floods in the countryside and bring water to our cities. We educate our young, even though the payoff is uncertain and far in the future. Those who do not plan for the future have none.

For more than a hundred years, visions of privacy have almost always been intertwined with visions of the future. When Samuel Warren and Louis Brandeis wrote their article "The Right of Privacy," their major concern was not with the state of privacy in 1890 Boston, but with the potential threats to privacy in the coming years. When George Orwell sat down in 1947 and penned his novel on Big Brother, his concern was not the state of privacy in postwar Britain or Russia, but with what might happen to civil liberties at some point in the future—say, in 1984. When Alan Westin testified before Congress back in 1968, he attacked the then-current practices in the U.S. credit industry, but his most serious warnings were ...

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