Post-Watergate Concern Over Privacy
New Awareness of Privacy Issue After Scandals
The right to privacy is an issue that has grown in the “post-Watergate” period. Fears of government and private data-gathering activities and official and unofficial snooping into the lives of private citizens have been heightened by the Watergate revelations in the last two years. While Watergate-related invasions of privacy—wiretapping and bugging of opponents, the use of government files to discredit “enemies,” misuse of intelligence agencies, and breaking and entering—have received most of the attention, other aspects of the problem are also being looked at more carefully today. Scores of books and articles on the subject are being published, private and official commissions are studying ways of protecting individual privacy and Congress is considering more than 140 bills relating to privacy in one way or another.
The issue of privacy has cut across political lines and ideologies. With a coalition of liberals and conservatives in and out of government leading the way, Congress is expected before adjournment this year to complete work on privacy legislation that for the first time would place controls on the federal government's collection and dissemination of personal information about individuals. This legislation has drawn such diverse backers as the Domestic Council Committee on the Right to Privacy, headed by President Ford; the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU); the House Republican Research Committee and its Privacy Task Force chairman, Rep. Barry M. Goldwater Jr. (R Calif.); Rep. Edward I. Koch (D N.Y.); and Sens. Sam J. Ervin (D N.C.) and Charles H. Percy (R Ill.).
President Nixon, whose administration was accused of bringing about repeated invasions of privacy, took up the right-to-privacy theme before he left office. He spoke of the need for an assured right to individual privacy in his 1974 State of the Union message to Congress and again in a radio address to the nation on Feb. 23. At that time he established the Domestic Council Committee in the White House with Ford, then the Vice President, as its chairman. The new committee was directed to examine the collection and use of personal data and to recommend ways to “provide a personal shield for every American” to protect his or her privacy.