Robert Ellis Smith is a journalist who uses his training as an attorney to report on the individual’s right to privacy. Since 1974, he has published Privacy Journal, a monthly newsletter on privacy in a computer age based in Providence, R.I.
Smith is a frequent speaker, writer, and Congressional witness on privacy issues and has compiled a clearinghouse of information on the subject: computer data banks, credit and medical records, the Internet, electronic surveillance, the law of privacy, and physical and psychological privacy.
His first book, Privacy: How to Protect What’s Left of It, was nominated for a National Book Award in 1980.
Smith is the author of Ben Franklin’s Web Site: Privacy and Curiosity from Plymouth Rock to the Internet (2004), the first and only published history of privacy in the U.S. He is also the author of Our Vanishing Privacy (1993), The Law of Privacy Explained (1993), Privacy: How to Protect What’s Left of It; Workrights, a book describing individual rights in the work place; and The Big Brother Book of Lists. Privacy Journal also publishes Compilation of State and Federal Privacy Laws, Celebrities and Privacy (2006), War Stories, a collection of anecdotes on privacy invasions and an electronic guide to privacy laws called Consumer’s Handheld Guide to Privacy Protections.
His latest book is Faces I Have Known, an electronic publication available on Kindle that provides portraits of famous persons he has met over his six-decade journalism career.
The New York Times said Smith “sounds the alarm about maintaining freedom and privacy in the computer age” and called him “a principled critic.” Privacy Journal is “a privacy watchdog,” according to Time magazine.
Smith has been asked to write the definitive statement on privacy in the last two editions of The World Book Encyclopedia. He has appeared on all three network morning news programs, as well as “Face the Nation,” “Nightline,” and “All Things Considered.” He has been a regular commentator on “Marketplace” on American Public Radio and has written a regular column on the popular Web site forbes.com.
From 1970 to 1973, Smith was the assistant director of the Office for Civil Rights in the U.S. Department of Health, Education, and Welfare. Prior to that, he had nine years of experience as a news reporter and editor with the Detroit Free Press, Trenton Times, The Southern Courier, and Newsday. He has taught at Harvard College, University of Maryland, Emerson College, and Brown University.
A 1962 graduate of Harvard College, Smith received his law degree from the Georgetown University Law Center in 1976. He served as a member of the District of Columbia Human Rights Commission until 1986. In 1997, Vice President Gore named him to the Civil Liberties Panel of the White House Commission on Aviation Safety and Security. From 1996 to 2002, he served as vice chair of the Coastal Resources Management Council, which protects the 400 miles of Rhode Island coastline.
Smith is also an actor, appearing in more than 11 community theater productions in Southern New England since 2014 and in three independent films in Rhode Island, where he lives.