A mid-1960s proposal to create a National Data Center has long been recognized as a turning point in the history of privacy and surveillance. This article shows that the story of the center also demonstrates how bureaucrats and researchers interested in managing the American economy came to value personal data stored as “data doubles,” especially the cards and files generated to represent individuals within the Social Security bureaucracy. The article argues that the United States welfare state, modeled after corporate life insurance, created vast databanks of data doubles that later became attractive to economic researchers and government planners. This story can be understood as helping to usher in our present age of personal data, one in which data doubles have become not only commodities, but the basis for a new capitalism. This essay is part of a special issue entitled Histories of Data and the Database edited by Soraya de Chadarevian and Theodore M. Porter.

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