The First Generation
Edited by James B. Rule
Chapter 4: France
Andre Vitalis The implementation of a system called SAFARI1 in the early 1970s first brought to light in France the dangers of data processing for individual liberties. Through that system, the Institut national de la statistique (INS) intended to turn the social security number – which was being computerised at the time – into an exclusive individual identifier. Adoption of that identifier by the various public administrations, together with data matching between their networks, was to enable the aggregation of all information retained on an individual in areas such as schools, the military, health, taxation and employment. On 21 March 1974, Le Monde sparked things off with an article entitled SAFARI ou la chasse aux Français,2 which pointed to the threat of comprehensive file link-up and data matching. The daily newspaper portrayed an allpowerful ministère de l’Intérieur,3 akin to Big Brother and which, equipped with a giant computer, would be able to watch each individual’s every move. The highest officials in the country thus learned first through that article, published in a greatly respected newspaper, about the existence of a system which, under the pretext of a technical modernisation, would drastically transform individual data processing. The secrecy surrounding the operation gave credit to the most alarming hypotheses and fuelled public concern. By dramatising the situation, the press revealed to the public the dangers of file computerisation, a question that had so far been confined to parliamentary circles. In 1970, during the debates about two bills concerning automated...
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