To Alan F. Westin [Letter 517]

Item Reference Code: 148_WAx_016_001

Date(s) of creation

March 28, 1964


Alan F. Westin


Alan Westin (1929–2013) was a law professor at Columbia University. His research was, according to Wikipedia, “widely seen as the first significant work on the problem of consumer data privacy and data protection.” He had written to AR under the auspices of the Special Committee on Science and Law of the New York City Bar Association.

March 28, 1964

Mr. Alan F. Westin
The Association of the Bar
of the City of New York
42 West 44th Street
New York 36, New York

Dear Mr. Westin:

Thank you for your letter of February 18th.

I find myself at a loss on how to answer it, because I do not understand your approach to the problem. An issue such as “the invasion of privacy” cannot be discussed without a clear definition of the right to privacy, and this cannot be discussed outside the context of clearly defined and upheld individual rights.

Since individual rights are being evaded, denied, negated and violated by the dominant philosophical theories and political practices of our time, I do not quite know how scientific gadgets can be singled out as the particular offender in the case.

Scientific gadgets or weapons do not put themselves into action; it is men who use them, and men’s actions are determined by their philosophical ideas. Therefore, the issue is not what sort of tools science has produced to violate individual rights, but: what sort of philosophy permits men to use these tools.

To answer your specific questions: 1. “Has the theme of protecting privacy from scientific observation and intrusion been a concern of the younger writers since World War II?” I am not an expert on today’s younger writers. With very few exceptions, I do not read them.

2. I do not regard “the pressures of mass society, the mass media, the large organization, and conformity pressures beyond the cold war” as the causes of today’s invasion of privacy and destruction of individual rights.

If you are interested in my views on the causes of that destruction, the “specific source” I can recommend for your investigation is my novel, Atlas Shrugged.



Ayn Rand