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Garfinkel argues that "technology is not privacy neutral." It leaves us with only two choices: 1) allow our personal data to rest in the public domain or 2) become hermits (no credit cards, no midnight video jaunts--you get the point). His book, which is thoroughly researched and contains example-rich text--if American-focused--explores the history of identification procedures; the computerisation of ID systems; how and where data is collected, tracked and stored; and the laws which protect privacy. Garfinkel also explains who owns, manipulates, ensures the safety and manages the vast amounts of data (videotapes, photographs, identification numbers, medical records, etc) that make up our collective human infrastructure. The big surprise here is that it isn't governments that manage the majority of this data, it's faceless corporations that trade your purchasing habits, identification numbers and other personal information just like any hot commodity.
Quoting many horrific examples, Garfinkel explores the wide spectrum of data thievery and the future implications of larger, longer-lasting databases. "Citizens", Garfinkel theorises, "don't know how to fight back even though we know our privacy is at risk." For example, a small paragraph on a US insurance claim-form grants "blanket authorization" of all personal records (medical, scholastic etc.) to an insurance company--or else the patient may be denied reimbursement for medical treatment. "We do not have the choice [as consumers] either to negotiate or to strike our own deal", writes Garfinkel.
We can, however, build a world in which sensitive data is respected and kept private--and Garfinkel offers solutions for doing just that. He suggests that citizens, government and corporations co-operate to develop weaker ID systems and legislate heavier penalties for identification theft. But while Garfinkel's argument is thought-provoking, his paranoia-laden prose and Orwellian imagination tend to obscure the safeguards he recommends. Strangely, for all his talk about protecting your privacy, he fails to provide a list of available resources for removing your personal information from direct mail and telemarketing groups. While he would like Database Nation to be as highly regarded (and timely) as Rachel Carson's Silent Spring, some may question whether the stakes in the privacy debate are really so high. --E. Brooke Gilbert, Amazon.com --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.