From Data to Dachau: Putting a Face on Data Privacy

With the advent of data tools and technologies ranging from autoclassification to automation, it is more important now than ever that legal and information technology professionals consider not only the positive things that can be accomplished with data-centric technology, but that they also consider the potential misuse of data technology.

Editor’s Note: This exhortation and extract are published after a recent tour of Dachau, Munich, Nurnberg, and Berchtesgaden in Southern Germany.

Gathering and using data to help achieve personal and professional objectives have been tasks accomplished by individuals and organizations from the beginning of time. However, with the advent of data tools and technologies ranging from autoclassification to automation, it is more important now than ever that legal and information technology professionals consider not only the positive things that can be accomplished with data-centric technology, but that they also consider the potential misuse of data technology. This is especially important in the area of data privacy where it is very easy to focus on data and regulations and forget that behind the data there are people and lives. Provided below is short extract by award-winning investigative author Edwin Black that puts a face on the potential misuse of data-centric technology.

Extract from article by Edwin Black

Mankind barely noticed when the concept of massively organized information quietly emerged to become a means of social control, a weapon of war, and a roadmap for group destruction. The unique igniting event was the most fateful day of the last century, January 30, 1933, the day Adolf Hitler came to power. Hitler and his hatred of the Jews was the ironic driving force behind this intellectual turning point. But his quest was greatly enhanced and energized by the ingenuity and craving for profit of a single American company and its legendary, autocratic chairman. That company was International Business Machines, and its chairman was Thomas J. Watson.

Der Führer’s obsession with Jewish destruction was hardly original. There had been czars and tyrants before him. But for the first time in history, an anti-Semite had automation on his side. Hitler didn’t do it alone. He had help.

In the upside-down world of the Holocaust, dignified professionals were Hitler’s advance troops. Police officials disregarded their duty in favor of protecting villains and persecuting victims. Lawyers perverted concepts of justice to create anti-Jewish laws. Doctors defiled the art of medicine to perpetrate ghastly experiments and even choose who was healthy enough to be worked to death and who could be cost-effectively sent to the gas chamber. Scientists and engineers debased their higher calling to devise the instruments and rationales of destruction. And statisticians used their little known but powerful discipline to identify the victims, project and rationalize the benefits of their destruction, organize their persecution, and even audit the efficiency of genocide. Enter IBM and its overseas subsidiaries.

Solipsistic and dazzled by its own swirling universe of technical possibilities, IBM was self-gripped by a special amoral corporate mantra: if it can be done, it should be done. To the blind technocrat, the means were more important than the ends. The destruction of the Jewish people became even less important because the invigorating nature of IBM’s technical achievement was only heightened by the fantastical profits to be made at a time when bread lines stretched across the world.

Read the complete article at The Nazi Party: IBM & “Death’s Calculator”

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