In my Open Forum article, “Privacy and Social Media,” February 2015, I mentioned Bruce Schneier’s new book, Data and Goliath (W.W.Norton & Company). For those concerned with the arrival of the surveillance state, this is a must-read book, and one of the best assessments of our current state of affairs. Schneier delves into all of the areas that I find most disconcerting, including our general loss of privacy and anonymity and the omnipresence of corporate and government Big Brother in nearly all facets of our lives. Are we really surprised that most social media, online search engines, and other corporations are selling our data, while others are aggregating that data (think big data and analytics), disabling our ability to remain anonymous? As Schneier points out, there is a balance that must be struck between convenience and the benefits of data collection and analysis. But when that balance tips towards unnecessary and undesired intrusion into our private lives, it is time for a change.
Schneier also presents a good case that most of the techniques used to enable the new surveillance state are questionable on both legal and moral grounds, the use of warrantless searches via universal surveillance by the US government being at the top of the list. He further notes that most surveillance techniques in fact do not make us safer from terrorism and suggests that good old-fashion police investigative techniques would serve us better. I couldn’t agree more. It certainly is a good reason to look for better and more effective techniques rather than rely on blanket surveillance of society.
Schneier concludes with a set of recommendations that I find very reasonable and balanced. Some we can do ourselves such as using Tor, encryption, and other technical solutions. Some involve putting a price tag on privacy breaches and would make companies financially liable for those breaches. Others will require executive or legislative resolution.
If the book gets any real traction and makes people realize that the US government has overreached its authority and has reduced the notion that we are all entitled to peace and quiet enjoyment in life, then there is hope; otherwise we will all live in an Orwellian state that I can only assume no one wants.