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The Transparent Society: Will Technology Force Us to Choose Between Privacy and Freedom? [Paperback]

Brin
4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
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Book Description

16 April 1999
In New York and Baltimore, police cameras scan public areas twenty-four hours a day. Huge commercial databases track you finances and sell that information to anyone willing to pay. Host sites on the World Wide Web record every page you view, and "smart" toll roads know where you drive. Every day, new technology nibbles at our privacy.Does that make you nervous? David Brin is worried, but not just about privacy. He fears that society will overreact to these technologies by restricting the flow of information, frantically enforcing a reign of secrecy. Such measures, he warns, won't really preserve our privacy. Governments, the wealthy, criminals, and the techno-elite will still find ways to watch us. But we'll have fewer ways to watch them. We'll lose the key to a free society: accountability.The Transparent Society is a call for "reciprocal transparency." If police cameras watch us, shouldn't we be able to watch police stations? If credit bureaus sell our data, shouldn't we know who buys it? Rather than cling to an illusion of anonymity-a historical anomaly, given our origins in close-knit villages-we should focus on guarding the most important forms of privacy and preserving mutual accountability. The biggest threat to our freedom, Brin warns, is that surveillance technology will be used by too few people, now by too many.A society of glass houses may seem too fragile. Fearing technology-aided crime, governments seek to restrict online anonymity; fearing technology-aided tyranny, citizens call for encrypting all data. Brins shows how, contrary to both approaches, windows offer us much better protection than walls; after all, the strongest deterrent against snooping has always been the fear of being spotted. Furthermore, Brin argues, Western culture now encourages eccentricity-we're programmed to rebel! That gives our society a natural protection against error and wrong-doing, like a body's immune system. But "social T-cells" need openness to spot trouble and get the word out. The Transparent Society is full of such provocative and far-reaching analysis.The inescapable rush of technology is forcing us to make new choices about how we want to live. This daring book reminds us that an open society is more robust and flexible than one where secrecy reigns. In an era of gnat-sized cameras, universal databases, and clothes-penetrating radar, it will be more vital than ever for us to be able to watch the watchers. With reciprocal transparency we can detect dangers early and expose wrong-doers. We can gauge the credibility of pundits and politicians. We can share technological advances and news. But all of these benefits depend on the free, two-way flow of information.

Frequently Bought Together

The Transparent Society: Will Technology Force Us to Choose Between Privacy and Freedom? + The Spy in the Coffee Machine: The End of Privacy as We Know It + Privacy: A Very Short Introduction (Very Short Introductions)
Price For All Three: 39.57

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Product details

  • Paperback: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Basic Books; First Trade Paper ed edition (16 April 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0738201448
  • ISBN-13: 978-0738201443
  • Product Dimensions: 2.3 x 14 x 20.7 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 435,815 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

More About the Author

David Brin is a scientist, public speaker and world-known author. His novels have been New York Times Bestsellers, winning multiple Hugo, Nebula and other awards. At least a dozen have been translated into more than twenty languages.

David's latest novel - Existence - is set forty years ahead, in a near future when human survival seems to teeter along not just on one tightrope, but dozens, with as many hopeful trends and breakthroughs as dangers... a world we already see ahead. Only one day an astronaut snares a small, crystalline object from space. It appears to contain a message, even visitors within. Peeling back layer after layer of motives and secrets may offer opportunities, or deadly peril.

David's non-fiction book -- The Transparent Society: Will Technology Make Us Choose Between Freedom and Privacy? -- deals with secrecy in the modern world. It won the Freedom of Speech Award from the American Library Association.

A 1998 movie, directed by Kevin Costner, was loosely based on his post-apocalyptic novel, The Postman. Brin's 1989 ecological thriller - Earth - foreshadowed global warming, cyberwarfare and near-future trends such as the World Wide Web. David's novel Kiln People has been called a book of ideas disguised as a fast-moving and fun noir detective story, set in a future when new technology enables people to physically be in more than two places at once. A hardcover graphic novel The Life Eaters explored alternate outcomes to WWII, winning nominations and high praise.

David's science fictional Uplift Universe explores a future when humans genetically engineer higher animals like dolphins to become equal members of our civilization. These include the award-winning Startide Rising, The Uplift War, Brightness Reef, Infinity's Shore and Heaven's Reach. He also recently tied up the loose ends left behind by the late Isaac Asimov: Foundation's Triumph brings to a grand finale Asimov's famed Foundation Universe.

Brin serves on advisory committees dealing with subjects as diverse as national defense and homeland security, astronomy and space exploration, SETI and nanotechnology, future/prediction and philanthropy.

As a public speaker, Brin shares unique insights -- serious and humorous -- about ways that changing technology may affect our future lives. He appears frequently on TV, including several episodes of "The Universe" and History Channel's "Life After People." He also was a regular cast member on "The ArciTECHS."

Brin's scientific work covers an eclectic range of topics, from astronautics, astronomy, and optics to alternative dispute resolution and the role of neoteny in human evolution. His Ph.D in Physics from UCSD - the University of California at San Diego (the lab of nobelist Hannes Alfven) - followed a masters in optics and an undergraduate degree in astrophysics from Caltech. He was a postdoctoral fellow at the California Space Institute. His technical patents directly confront some of the faults of old-fashioned screen-based interaction, aiming to improve the way human beings converse online.

Website: http://www.davidbrin.com/
Twitter: http://twitter.com/#!/davidbrin1

Product Description

From the Author

I like privacy! But freedom is paramount.
The opening line (above) is just a little misleading. I don't argue against privacy. If we remain a free, cantankerous and sovereign people, we'll be able to demand a little privacy, no matter how pervasive the technologies of surveillance become. My emphasis in the book is that freedom must come first in our list of priorities. And history shows that only one tool has enabled people to maintain liberty. That tool is accountability -- the power to make sure the mighty (whether governments, aristocrats or any other elite) must answer questions and reveal their schemes. In other words, we have one answer to Juvenal's old question: 'Who will watch the watchmen?' The answer must be... us.

This topic is just beginning. Let's argue like a free people, and don't fall for easy assumptions. In the long run, light will protect us better than secrecy or masks. END --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

About the Author

David Brin has a Ph.D. in physics, but is best known for his science fiction. His books include the New York Times bestseller The Uplift War, Hugo Award-winner Startide Rising, and The Postman. He lives in Encinitas, California.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars This book is absolutely mandatory reading 26 May 1998
By A Customer
Format:Hardcover
Brin has taken some of the concepts explored in his science fiction, fleshed them out and provided a compelling rationale and background for them. He gives a fair and balanced analysis of all sides of the multitude of debates regarding privacy, censorship, freedom, access to information and the future of our society. And then he steps back and has the courage to do what so few people seem to do in modern debate--argue that the answers lie not in the extremes, but in a pragmatic center. Perhaps "center" isn't the right word, instead he seems to have moved the entire argument from two dimensions into three.
If you have any interest at all in privacy (computer or otherwise), censorship, government power, encryption, or what our world may be like in ten or twenty years; you definitely need to read this book. You may not agree with it, but it's going to shape the coming debates.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great book 14 Jun 1999
By A Customer
Format:Paperback
This is a very good book for people to be come aware of their rights and responsibilities when dealing in an ever connected world. Mr Brin gives thoughtful two sided insight about some issues of how things are in the world today and poses questions of how we can thoughtfully consider the world and how it should or could be. Must read for anyone who gets involved heavily online or in public policy discussion, or is just a bit "different". When you are aware what is going on - you lose that feeling of loss of privacy when you can consider it is often for public protection.
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By A Customer
Format:Hardcover
Note: I reviewed the book in draft form.
Based primarily on rampant, uncontrolled growth in visual surveillance, Brin argues that the technological imperative is irresistible; and that privacy protections are futile. He believes that privacy can only be sustained by focussing instead on freedom of information for everyone: to achieve privacy, rely on freedom, not secrecy.
Brin's argument can be most succinctly expressed as a question-answer pair: Q: Who will keep a watch on the watchers? A: The watched. His antidote is ubiquitous openness, with the powerful just as subject to visual and data surveillance as everyone else. Policemen will be judged by the viewers who, on the Internet, watch them watching others.
Brin's argument is based on the premise that the watchers will not exercise political power in order to preclude others from watching them. The history of societies suggests that there have always been uneven distributions of power, and that the powerful have had incentives, and in most cases the ability, to exercise their power, and to resist diminution of their power. It would appear that Brin's transparent society can only be achieved if the patterns repeated across millenia of human experience are able to be overturned in short order.
So his argument is undermined by the implicit presumptions that the less powerful are more powerful than the more powerful, that no-one will succeed in establishing enclaves of privilege, and that the actions of all will really be able to be monitored by all. Brin's counter-argument (private communication, 30 June 1998) is that the powerful will be only as successful in avoiding observation as they already are in resisting privacy laws that offend their own interests.
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4.0 out of 5 stars An interesting thesis, but a difficult read 15 April 1999
By A Customer
Format:Hardcover
I really enjoy David Brin's novels and I am very interested in modern society and the technological changes we're experiencing, which is why this book appeals to me.
I think Brin does an excellent job of presenting both sides of the argument, even conceding points to the "opposing" side of his thesis. This lends a lot of credibility to his arguements. He provides many many examples and illustrations which I find very interesting. He includes both historical and current examples which present a range of practical and philosophical perspectives. It's clear he spent a lot of time doing research to find these examples.
That said, my only complaint is that the style of writing is a bit cumbersome. It's not Brin's extensive vocabulary (which is refreshing and challenging), but rather his tendency to continually refer to other chapters as support for the current arguement. The organization of the book is good and speaks for itself. The author should not be compelled to direct the reader to other sections. Specifically, the hypertext-like references are disruptive to the flow of the argument. If such asides are helpful for some readers, perhaps footnotes would have served the same purpose without creating so many parenthetical interruptions.
All in all this is a topic I like to think about, and the substance of Brin's arguments are quite valuable.
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Was this review helpful to you?
4.0 out of 5 stars An interesting thesis, but a difficult read 15 April 1999
By A Customer
Format:Hardcover
I really enjoy David Brin's novels and I am very interested in modern society and the technological changes we're experiencing, which is why this book appeals to me.
I think Brin does an excellent job of presenting both sides of the argument, even conceding points to the "opposing" side of his thesis. This lends a lot of credibility to his arguments. He provides many many examples and illustrations which I find very interesting. He includes both historical and current examples which present a range of practical and philosophical perspectives. It's clear he spent a lot of time doing research to find these examples.
That said, my only complaint is that the style of writing is a bit cumbersome. It's not Brin's extensive vocabulary (which is refreshing and challenging), but rather his tendency to continually refer to other chapters as support for the current argument. The organization of the book is good and speaks for itself. The author should not be compelled to direct the reader to other sections. Specifically, the hypertext-like references are disruptive to the flow of the argument. If such asides are helpful for some readers, perhaps footnotes would have served the same purpose without creating so many parenthetical interruptions.
All in all this is a topic I like to think about, and the substance of Brin's thesis is quite valuable.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars A perfect debate on privacy issues!
This book offers much more that its title suggests. The debate on privacy and technology in relation to the future of society is endless. Read more
Published on 6 Mar 2002 by Vassiljok
5.0 out of 5 stars Something that every politician and scientist should read.
This is the most thought provoking book I've ever read regarding solving many of the problems present in our American society. Read more
Published on 2 Jun 1999
4.0 out of 5 stars Almost Persuasive, But...
I read Brin's book while working on my doctoral thesis, which contains a reference to the Nuremberg Files debate and the attendant controversies. Read more
Published on 10 May 1999
4.0 out of 5 stars A fascinating exploration of the future impact of technology
Brin begins with a compelling comparison: should we allow technology to rule us -- or rather, should we concede the right of rulers to control technology -- or should we as... Read more
Published on 10 Mar 1999
5.0 out of 5 stars Want to get enlightened and scared at the same time?
From time to time a work comes along that is totally separate, above, from the works of all other authors at the time of release. This is such a work. Read more
Published on 28 Feb 1999
5.0 out of 5 stars A honorable follow-on to Orwell's 1984
For perhaps two centuries people living in today's advanced industrial societies have had a modicum of privacy. Read more
Published on 2 Nov 1998
5.0 out of 5 stars Mandatory reading for *everyone*
Brin doesn't flinch in the face of privacy issues and the downside of privacy: lack of accountability. Read more
Published on 30 Sep 1998
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent at provoking thought.
Brin's book challenges several reflexive views held by cyberthinkers -- most significantly that strong encryption is the key to liberty. (He's clearly right about that. Read more
Published on 19 July 1998
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent!
While I do not agree 100% with what David has to say, I have found that I seek more openness on the Internet today, rather than privacy and encryption for my personal "online... Read more
Published on 22 Jun 1998
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