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In New York and Baltimore, police cameras scan public areas twenty-four hours a day. Huge commercial databases track you finances and sell that information to anyone willing to pay. Host sites on the World Wide Web record every page you view, and "smart" toll roads know where you drive. Every day, new technology nibbles at our privacy.Does that make you nervous? David Brin is worried, but not just about privacy. He fears that society will overreact to these technologies by restricting the flow of information, frantically enforcing a reign of secrecy. Such measures, he warns, won't really preserve our privacy. Governments, the wealthy, criminals, and the techno-elite will still find ways to watch us. But we'll have fewer ways to watch them. We'll lose the key to a free society: accountability.The Transparent Society is a call for "reciprocal transparency." If police cameras watch us, shouldn't we be able to watch police stations? If credit bureaus sell our data, shouldn't we know who buys it? Rather than cling to an illusion of anonymity-a historical anomaly, given our origins in close-knit villages-we should focus on guarding the most important forms of privacy and preserving mutual accountability. The biggest threat to our freedom, Brin warns, is that surveillance technology will be used by too few people, now by too many.A society of glass houses may seem too fragile. Fearing technology-aided crime, governments seek to restrict online anonymity; fearing technology-aided tyranny, citizens call for encrypting all data. Brins shows how, contrary to both approaches, windows offer us much better protection than walls; after all, the strongest deterrent against snooping has always been the fear of being spotted. Furthermore, Brin argues, Western culture now encourages eccentricity-we're programmed to rebel! That gives our society a natural protection against error and wrong-doing, like a body's immune system. But "social T-cells" need openness to spot trouble and get the word out. The Transparent Society is full of such provocative and far-reaching analysis.The inescapable rush of technology is forcing us to make new choices about how we want to live. This daring book reminds us that an open society is more robust and flexible than one where secrecy reigns. In an era of gnat-sized cameras, universal databases, and clothes-penetrating radar, it will be more vital than ever for us to be able to watch the watchers. With reciprocal transparency we can detect dangers early and expose wrong-doers. We can gauge the credibility of pundits and politicians. We can share technological advances and news. But all of these benefits depend on the free, two-way flow of information.

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Book Details

ISBN: 9780738201443
ISBN-10: 0738201448
Format: Paperback
(210mm x 140mm x 23mm)
Pages: 384
Imprint: Basic Books
Publisher: The Perseus Books Group
Publish Date: 16-Apr-1999
Country of Publication: United States

Other Editions

Reviews

US Kirkus Review » Self-described crackpot and prolific science-fiction writer Brin (Infinity's Shore, 1996, etc.) ponders the technological threats to and possibilities for freedom in the not-too-distant future. Privacy is assailed from all sides today. Electronic surveillance becomes more widespread even as it becomes less intrusive. Data on many aspects of our lives are gathered, bought, and sold. We are enmeshed in a web of electronic noise, a cyberworld of gossiping and snooping. Clearly, say those who would protect our privacy, regulation of such surveillance is necessary. Brin argues just the opposite: Rather than vainly attempting to save privacy, we should strive to create a society that is ever more transparent, ever more exposed. Technology, no matter how we may try to regulate it, will find ever more sophisticated and subtle ways to snoop. And the regulators will have to be regulated by another layer of government watchdogs. So, says Brin, let openness rule. Make bosses as accountable as employees, have government be watched by its citizens as much as it watches. Much as we feel a sense of privacy in the openness of a restaurant, so might a transparent society provide a sense, and the reality, of privacy much better than one in which surveillance is hidden but nevertheless there. Much depends on how humans decide to behave, and while Brin is hardly naive about human nature, he sees that in a society already reasonably tolerant we might reach a point when the private matters of everyone are both readily accessible and simply uninteresting. Brin's writing is eclectic, wandering, and fun. Some of what he says is, well, crackpot. But Brin is also no anarchistic dreamer, no "cypher punk," as he puts it. The transparent, unregulated future of freedom is only a possibility, a result of long processes of experimentation and gained wisdom. (Kirkus Reviews)


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Author Biography - David Brin

David Brin has a Ph.D. in physics, but is best known for his science fiction. His books include the New York Times bestseller The Uplift War, Hugo Award-winner Startide Rising, and The Postman. He lives in Encinitas, California.

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