Hastings Law Journal


Paul Schwartz


The use of computers to process vast quantities of data is currently a vital aspect of government administration. In order to centralize control over massive government programs, government agencies commonly implement computerized data processing systems that collect and analyze personal information regarding millions of citizens, and make this information available to numerous government officials. Yet, in contrast to many European countries, the development of American law reflects scant awareness of the dangers of this application of computerized data processing. Professor Schwartz attempts to remedy this problem by developing a legal approach to regulating the government's use of computerized data processing of personal information.

This Article examines the history of information gathering techniques and demonstrates how the development of the computer has encouraged and expanded the government's reliance on data processing. Professor Schwartz argues that the government's use of personal information must be evaluated in terms of its impact on two normative concepts: bureaucratic justice and human autonomy. These concepts are developed through an evaluation of the use of computerized data processing in two specific government programs: Aid to Families with Dependent Children, and Child Support Enforcement. Professor Schwartz concludes that in order to promote bureaucratic justice and human autonomy, an American data protection law should pursue three basic strategies: structuring transparent data processing systems; granting limited procedural and substantive rights to the data subject; and creating independent governmental monitoring of data processing systems.

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