David Linowes, 90; Economist and Educator Influenced U.S. Policies on Privacy Protection

David F. Linowes, left, and President Jimmy Carter with a copy of the report by the Privacy Protection Study Commission, which Mr. Linowes chaired from 1975 to 1977.
David F. Linowes, left, and President Jimmy Carter with a copy of the report by the Privacy Protection Study Commission, which Mr. Linowes chaired from 1975 to 1977. (Associated Press)
By Adam Bernstein
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, November 1, 2007

David F. Linowes, 90, an economist, author and educator who chaired an influential federal commission on privacy protection issues as well as three other presidential commissions, died Oct. 29 at his home in Chevy Chase after a stroke.

Mr. Linowes was a professor emeritus of public policy and political economy at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

He had long balanced careers in the public and private sectors, starting in the 1960s, when he was a mergers and acquisitions specialist in New York and headed U.N. trade missions to Europe and Asia.

From 1975 to 1977, he chaired the federally appointed Privacy Protection Study Commission. A national privacy act, passed as a Watergate-era reform, created the commission to recommend ways of protecting personal data held by government agencies and the private sector.

Colin Bennett, chairman of the political science department of the University of Victoria in Canada and an expert on privacy protection, said: "The report itself is a landmark in privacy protection studies. At the time it was produced, it was one of the best analyses of the issue anywhere in the world."

In the United States, few of the report's suggestions became law, but it was used partly as a model for commissions in Europe, Canada and elsewhere to address privacy concerns, Bennett said.

The commission opposed a comprehensive privacy law for the private sector but urged laws to cover such industries as banking and insurance.

Few of those suggested laws affecting the private sector were enacted in the United States after the report came out, but a "piecemeal, reactive" approach has been taken over the decades to build private-sector protection, from health records to video rentals, Bennett said.

Mr. Linowes remained actively concerned with privacy issues while at the University of Illinois. There, he conducted a large-scale study of privacy protection at the nation's largest corporations and called for a federal law to protect employees and set fair-information practices for businesses.

"Today, employers are anxious to get as much information on employees as possible," he told the Boston Globe in 2000. "Once it gets into a computer, once it gets a technical aspect, then anybody can get that information."

David Linowitz was born March 16, 1917, in Trenton, N.J., to Russian-born Jews.

As a young adult, he changed his name to David Francis Linowes and urged much of his family to adopt the new surname to avoid anti-Semitism and any association with Soviet totalitarianism.


CONTINUED     1        >

© 2007 The Washington Post Company