18 July 2015

Jacques Mattheij: “If you’ve got nothing to hide...”

Since 1851 Amsterdam had a registry that recorded the following innocent pieces of data about the residents: Name, Date of birth, Address, Marital Status, Parents, Profession, Religion, Previous Addresses and Date of Death if deceased. For many years this system served well and was kept meticulously up to date.

Which undoubtedly well meaning civil servant long before World War II came up with the brilliant idea of registering religious affiliation during the census is lost in the mists of time. What we do know is that that little field caused untold thousands of people to die once the occupiers decided to use it to locate Jewish people. And there were many of those in Amsterdam, which was home to roughly 80,000 Jews (Dutch) of the total of about 104,000 in all of the Netherlands at the outbreak of the war. 70,000 of them had their data entered into the Amsterdam registry.

Jacques Mattheij

A good reminder (though certainly not the first) of why privacy is very important, probably more so in this modern age of online data. It’s probably one of the reasons why Europeans and Americans take opposing views on privacy: here in Europe, the memory of World War II and these tales of ethnic betrayal are still fresh, while the United States never faced a similar conflict within its borders. The internal conflicts in the States were out in the open: North against South, white vs. black, where no amount of privacy would hide your race.

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