ACLU-MO History Spotlight: Privacy

Privacy Project

Technology concerns began in the 1950s, over government officials listening to phone calls or surveilling private conversations.

man smoking while listing to headhones on flyer titled "the third man..."

Flyer about government wiretap possibilities, circa 1958. From ACLU-MO Records (wua00355), series 2, subseries 5, box 1, folder: Fundraisers and Recruitment Parties

By the 1970s, more and more personal information was stored on new computer systems, both corporate and governmental. The ACLU of Eastern Missouri (as it was then called) launched a Privacy Media Campaign aimed at educating a wide audience. With funding from the Deer Creek Foundation, advertising time was purchased on local TV and radio stations, and brochures were printed.

line drawing cartoon showing script for TV show

Storyboard for Privacy Project TV spots.
From ACLU-MO Records (wua00355), series 2, subseries 3, box 2.

A key topic was informing viewers of their rights to obtain data under the Freedom of Information Act, expanded by the 1974 Privacy Act amendments.

"Privacy Handbook" showing doors marked "privacy"Privacy & HIV

In 1985, Missouri officials wanted to compile names of people living with HIV and AIDS, although doctors stated this would not help the epidemic.

Together, the ACLU of Western Missouri and the ACLU of Eastern Missouri lobbied state legislators to stop this hurtful invasion of people’s privacy. Finally, in 1992, an “AIDS Bill” was enacted, requiring that the state keep communicable disease information confidential.

Cover of newspaper with man looking at files

“The AIDS Police” cover story by Riverfront Times. Color image courtesy of Riverfront Times.
Full article in ACLU-MO Records (wua00355), series 4, subseries 1, box 3, board minutes 1991.

Work to protect the rights of people living with HIV continues in 2020. The ACLU of Missouri, along with other organizations such as PROMO, continue to lobby for updated state laws. “Missouri’s current law criminalizes conduct that doesn’t even result in HIV exposure. Using a condom during sex or receiving treatment for HIV isn’t considered an adequate defense—simply living and loving as an HIV+ individual is enough to be liable for prosecution.” (read more here)


Schultz, Gene P. and Meg Reuter. “AIDS Legislation in Missouri: An Analysis and a Proposal,” Missouri Law Review 53 (1988).

Privacy Watch STL. (2016).

Safir Ahmed, “The AIDS Police,” 664 The Riverfront Times, June 26 – July 2, 1991. page 1, 10-11.

ACLU of Missouri, “As Understanding of HIV/AIDS Evolves, So Should Missouri Law,” February 27, 2019.

ACLU-MO @ 100

This post is part of a series in recognition of the American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri’s centennial year (1920-2020). Read more stories at:

If you have a question about this post or other topics related to St. Louis history, I can be reached at or on Twitter: @mrectenwald.

About the author

Miranda Rectenwald is Curator of Local History, Washington University Special Collections. More info.