The naked society of ’66

“The Insidious invasion of privacy” was Life Magazine’s cover story of May 1966. The headlines read “The Big Snoop”, and it’s about the invasion of electronic devices for eavesdropping: in business, in homes, by law enforcers, by the underworld, by anyone who is out to get you.

Edward Long, senator at the time, was heading a Senate Judiciary Committee on invasion on privacy by government agencies. He concluded that we’re living in  “a naked society, where every citizen is a denizen in a goldfish bowl.”

This all happened during the cold war, and one year before a new James Bond movie “You only live twice” was shown in cinema. Las Vegas was known to be “the most bugged city” and in Florida electronic eavesdropping was frequently employed in divorce suits. Mary Alice told court “He plays just as rough with the bugs as I do”, when she and her husband were both ordered to stop spying on each other. For $500 anyone could buy a plastic olive with built-in sending device and a toothpick antenna. Plopped in a Martini, it can transmit cocktail party conversation 100 feet.

Fifty-six years after Life Magazine’s wake-up call we’re able to wiretap almost anyone’s social life based on our digital footprints. The eavesdropping industry today is called “social listening” and you can buy a platform or do it cheap for less than $500.

Technology has changed, but our curiosity has been quite stable throughout the years. If you’re interested in the history of eavesdropping and privacy read the books of Robert Ellis Smith. Author of “Privacy: How to protect what’s left of it” and “Ben Franklin’s Website”.

About Menno van Doorn

Menno van Doorn is Director of the Research Institute for the Analysis of New Technology (VINT) in the Netherlands. He mixes personal life experiences with the findings of the 17 years of research done at the VINT Research Institute. Menno has co-authored five books on the impact of new technology on business and society. Awards: IT Researcher of the Year in the Netherlands.

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