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Rovere on Privacy (1958)

The technological erosion of privacy has been an important issue for a long time. Richard H. Rovere’s article is as timely today as the day he wrote it almost 50 years ago, but his analysis of the issues is clearer, more complete, and more rational than most of what we hear today.

Substitute “terrorist” for “narcotics peddlers” and you have a current headline.

But the fact of the matter is that it is not narcotics peddlers whose privacy has been more efficiently violated by the use of the new techniques; the net has not been drawn tighter against society’s enemies — it has simply been spread for a larger catch…. It is one thing to deceive and trap a dope pusher by almost any means available, and quite another to tap the phone of, let us say, a philanthropic foundation on the chance of turning up a relationship between it and some citizen of a heretical turn of mind.

Rovere wrote the “Washington” (later “Affairs of State”) column for The New Yorker for more than 30 years, until his death in 1979.

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