Alan Paller, a peerless voice for the Internet’s privacy issues for two decades, has died after a short illness. He was 76. The adage, “one person can make a difference,” is widely acknowledged to apply to Alan, his hugely effective Twitter account, and the advocacy work he did to get the United States government to start taking online privacy seriously.
Some background: Like many people, Alan P. Paller’s eyes met a smartphone screen as a child. His parents got rid of the old computers when they had the money to replace them. Alan’s passion was freedom from surveillance. From his research station in New York City, he worked on a threat detection system that had over two million computers scanning spam. He was part of one of the first major privacy advocates in the United States, working for industry and government to devise a policy that made surveillance illegal. It would not be the last mission he would undertake.
Alan, who was also affiliated with Wired, was the communications director for CISPA, an earlier iteration of the controversial anti-spam legislation that was passed by Congress. As a Silicon Valley programmer, he co-founded a safe browsing software company, Netscreen, which went public in 1995. He was now a professor emeritus at Rutgers University, lecturing on ethics of information technology. His extensive work history led to his acquisition by Wired magazine in 2009, and he maintained his journalistic front as often as he supported his causes online.