Kirkus Review of Data and Goliath
A jeremiad suggesting our addiction to data may have made privacy obsolete.
Prolific technological writer Schneier (Fellow/Berkman Center for Internet and Society, Harvard Law School; Carry On: Sound Advice from Schneier on Security, 2013, etc.) clearly examines how technology has transformed every interaction, noting how our intimate communications are now “saved in ways we have no control over.” He suggests that most Americans remain unconcerned about the relationship between data and surveillance, due to the attraction of “free” products like Gmail. He focuses on the social costs of surveillance, which “puts us at risk of abuses by those in power—exacerbated by the fact that we are generating so much data and storing it indefinitely.” He also argues that this “pervasive mass surveillance” will inevitably chill progressive movements—e.g., gay rights and cannabis decriminalization. The problem is more sprawling than most realize: Edward Snowden’s revelations clarified “how much the NSA relies on US corporations to eavesdrop on the Internet,” and corporations are using such technologies for their own ends. Yet both the NSA and corporations are blithe about how they treat the fruits of this nonstop spying. “From the military’s perspective,” writes the author, “it’s not surveillance until a human being looks at the data.” Such strange pronouncements about the common good are hard to counter, since whistleblowers such as Snowden are prohibited from explaining their actions in court. Schneier argues that all this invasion of privacy is unlikely to succeed in its alleged goal: “Even highly accurate terrorism prediction systems will be so flooded with false alarms that they will be useless.” He concludes this grim catalog of privacy erosion with a set of prescriptions for governments, corporations and “the rest of us,” advocating a mix of legal framework, incentives for fairer business models and a more realistic understanding of the current moment’s potential for harm.
An accessible, detailed look at a disturbing aspect of contemporary life.