Review of Data and Goliath
The Internet birthed unprecedented freedom of communication, interconnecting individuals from every corner of the globe and every walk of life. This free flow of information has the potential to establish a world of truly free and equal citizens, yet many politicians want to turn this technology inside out and use the Internet as a universal surveillance mechanism. This path would roll back centuries of civil rights and revive feudalism on a global scale. Sadly, this rush to oppression isn’t restricted to some backwater dictator massaging his own ego. The most powerful nations on earth are violating their own laws to continuously develop new and more invasive methods of scrutinizing everyone they can reach.
This Internet privacy crisis is very real and very dangerous. One measure of its criticality is the sparseness of clear, objective reasoning about the issues. Most people flock to opposite poles of thought and engage in emotional diatribes instead of logical debate. It’s into this super-heated controversy that Bruce Schneier flings his latest book, an understated challenge to face the issues and think deeply.
Schneier has long been known for his ability to present computer security concepts in clear, understandable terms. A reader doesn’t have to be a credentialed expert to get the point. This latest book continues that tradition, explaining the technological and social issues clearly and simply. Technical capabilities have become deeply intertwined with history and law, but the author manages to unwind and reveal each pertinent thread. Most surprisingly, though, he offers actual, implementable solutions to our crisis, using explanations that even politicians can understand. Those who support universal surveillance claim that it fights tyranny, but universal surveillance actually creates the very world its proponents purport to fear. With the publication of this book, no one can claim ignorance of the issues, their solutions, or our destiny any longer.
The book weighs in at 238 pages of text. As stated above, it’s clear and easy to read, closer to a novel than a technical book. The text is followed by 120-plus pages of footnotes. This factual, verifiable evidence stands in clear contrast to the unverifiable anecdotes, and even completely fabricated tales, that have been used to support surveillance.
Schneier frames the book in terms of American events, history, and principles because that’s the environment he knows best, but the issues and solutions are applicable to other nations as well. I hope that it becomes a well-read classic.