Book Review: Data and Goliath—You Don’t Have Any Secrets Anymore

Privacy is becoming an antiquated concept. In “Data and Goliath: The Hidden Battles to Collect Your Data and Control Your World” (ISBN: 9780393244816), security expert Bruce Schneier leads you through a labyrinth of surveillance that should scare the hell out of you.

Welcome to the NSA! We want to thank you for helping us with our collection of data about your work and personal habits. By using the computer, phone, public transportation, private vehicle, credit cards, library, banking systems, online shopping, or retail shopping, you are contributing to our data files. Wait, did we say files? We meant mega-warehouse. Either way, we here at the National Security Agency are pleased to get to know you.

Sound farfetched? As shown in sometimes shocking detail, Bruce Schneier's 'Data and Goliath' explains and exposes the largest ongoing monitoring system in the history of the world.

Much of the data gathered by governments and corporations is the result of bargains we citizens or customers make with them. We want Internet connectivity, right? Fine, but wherever we go on the ‘Net will be tracked. We want a mobile phone with a bunch of cool features, yes? Okay, but every call, every text, every use will be monitored.

Wherever you go, your movements are on video and your route is logged because of the GPS tracking in your mobile device. Make a purchase with your credit card and your data will be gleaned, gathered, harvested, and held. Maybe that info will be used in some acceptable way ('people who bought John Coltrane's Giant Steps also enjoyed Blue Trane') or maybe it will just sit in some secret data farm. Y'know, just in case someone wants to access it later. For some reason. Any reason. But always unbeknownst to you.

Snowden

Okay, what about the eyebrow-raising evidence from Edward Snowden showing that computer web cams and smart phone microphones can be remotely activated even when you have turned the devices off? Yup, turns out that's true. Plus, his revelations proved the interactivity between government and industry.

The Snowden documents made it clear how much the NSA relies on US corporations to eavesdrop on the Internet. The NSA didn't build a massive Internet eavesdropping system from scratch. It noticed that the corporate world was already building one, and tapped into it.

Further, mass surveillance takes place because 'the NSA legally compels Internet companies like Microsoft, Google, Apple, and Yahoo to provide data.'

Computers Uber Alles

Schneier notes that 'everything is turning into a computer.' At first, he makes it seem sort of benign:

Your phone is a computer that makes calls. Your car is a computer with wheels and an engine. Your oven is a computer that bakes lasagnas. Your camera is a computer that takes pictures. Even our pets and livestock are now regularly chipped; my cat is practically a computer that sleeps in the sun all day.

But one result of this computerization is the massive collection of data about who we are, what we do, where we go, with whom we interact, our purchases, our health, our sex lives, our jokes, our political and religious beliefs, our brand loyalty, our relatives, our friends, our coworkers, our clients, our income, our taxes, our donations, our habits, our entertainment choices, and even our decision to read the well-written but sometimes rant-filled book reviews of some guy with one letter for a last name.

Speaking of oddly-yclept folks:

In 2013, the rapper Jay-Z and Samsung teamed up to offer people who downloaded an app the ability to hear the new Jay-Z album before release. The app required the ability to view all accounts on the phone, track the phone's location, and track who the user was talking to on the phone.

Just for good measure, '…the Angry Birds game even collects location data when you're not playing.'

Good ‘n' Scary

Allow me to lapse into the vernacular for a moment: There is a ton of great stuff in this book! Consider just some of the things Schneier provides us:

* The real reason why Edward Snowden is not currently able to return to the US.

*An explanation of how the NSA is misleading us when we're told not to worry about their collecting the cell phone call records of every American because it is 'only metadata,' not the words spoken on the calls.

* There are 17 agencies in the USA intelligence community, including the NSA, CIA, FBI, DEA, NRO, DIA, and DHS. 'And there may be a still-secret 18th agency.'

Nothing to Hide?

People sometimes quote an old saying: You have nothing to hide if you're doing nothing wrong. Yet that is obviously incorrect.

We do nothing wrong when we make love, go to the bathroom, or sing in the shower. We do nothing wrong when we search for a job without telling our current employer. We do nothing wrong when we seek out private places for reflection or conversation, when we choose not to talk about something emotional or personal, when we use envelopes for our mail, or when we confide in a friend and no one else.

Important

The next time you are in a bookstore, open up a copy of 'Data and Goliath' and read the eight-and-half-page Introduction. It is a brilliant overview of the subject. Once you get home with your copy, the book is a fast read. The frightening text comprises 238 pages with the rest devoted to comprehensive Index, Notes and Bibliography.

Even more than this rave review, Schneier's 8-page Intro will entice you to buy the book. (Pay cash if you don't want to be helping the NSA or the store's corporate owners as they gather more info about you.)

Categories: Book Reviews, Data and Goliath, Text

Photo of Bruce Schneier by Per Ervland.

Schneier on Security is a personal website. Opinions expressed are not necessarily those of IBM Resilient.