Customer Review

5.0 out of 5 stars Important, flawed, nearly as readable as his sci-fi, 9 July 1998
By A Customer
This review is from: The Transparent Society: Will Technology Force Us to Choose Between Privacy and Freedom? (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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