[ISN] REVIEW: "The Transparent Society"

From: mea culpa (jerichoat_private)
Date: Fri Nov 06 1998 - 22:55:35 PST

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    From: "Rob Slade, doting grandpa of Ryan and Trevor" <rsladeat_private>
    BKTRASOC.RVW   980919
    "The Transparent Society", David Brin, 1998, 0-201-32802-X,
    %A   David Brin
    %C   P.O. Box 520, 26 Prince Andrew Place, Don Mills, Ontario M3C 2T8
    %D   1998
    %G   0-201-32802-X
    %I   Addison-Wesley Publishing Co.
    %O   U$25.00/C$34.95 416-447-5101 fax: 416-443-0948 bkexpressat_private
    %P   378 p.
    %T   "The Transparent Society"
    As the author points out, this book will probably be shelved alongside
    texts on privacy.  It is, however, more properly about candour.  I find,
    therefore, that I must make an admission of a rather important bias. 
    Despite being considered by some to be a security expert, I have never had
    any particular interest in the practice of privacy and confidentiality.  I
    am much more interested in openness. 
    Part one looks at the new transparent world as access to all kinds of
    information increases.  Chapter one points out that the time to discuss
    whether we want technology or privacy has passed: technology is here, and
    it *will* provide access to information, and erode privacy, whether we
    like it or not.  Brin does suggest that we still have a choice about the
    management of that technology.  Do we want to have all data available only
    to a select few (such as the government), or all data available to
    everyone?  The "information age" is reviewed in chapter two, but there is
    also a very interesting examination of the possibility of the resurgence
    of amateur scholarship.  Various current invasions of, and attacks on,
    privacy are discussed in chapter three.  In response to these, and in
    opposition to the usual calls for more legislated protections on privacy,
    Brin proposes reciprocal transparency: everyone who wants to collect
    information on the public must make the same information about themselves
    publicly available. Chapter four raises an extremely interesting point in
    relation to copyright, patent, and other legal restrictions on
    intellectual property, and the fact that the information age seems to have
    so much trouble with it.  Transparency initially seems to threaten to
    totally destroy the idea of copyright, but ultimately may present a unique
    solution to maintaining its proper function. 
    Part two looks at those problems involved in an open society.  Chapter
    five presents some of the arguments that should be reviewed, from the
    toxicity of ideas to the irony of western civilization's delight in
    individualism.  The inherent benefits of accountability are reiterated in
    chapter six, although with less eloquence and insight than earlier text
    displayed.  The encryption debate is a convoluted one, and is fairly, but
    rather unclearly, portrayed in chapter seven.  The general tone of most of
    the book is libertarian, so the author does not seem to be completely
    comfortable with arguing against the merits of confidentiality of
    communications.  It is, however, ironic that Brin does not report the
    later research of Dorothy Denning that indicates law enforcement agencies
    really do not need the ability to break encryption, since in an odd way it
    strengthens his central thesis. 
    Part three proposes some means of achieving an open society.  Chapter
    eight reviews a number of tools for transparency, but manages to look
    ragged and disorganized.  Some future technological "tools races" are
    described with a bit more coherence in chapter nine.  The various
    arguments in favour of openness are extended, in chapter ten, to the
    international arena.  Chapter eleven closes off with a summation of the
    rest of the book. 
    Since Brin is well known as a popularizer of science and as a science
    fiction writer, and since his scientific training is not in the field of
    information technology it would be easy to see this book as yet another
    attempt by someone to trade on a reputation and a currently popular field
    in order to make a few bucks with minimal effort and thought.  Although
    his writing background has helped to produce a text that is easily
    readable, the work is informed by a thorough understanding of the issues
    and technologies, and also leavened with insight and wit.  Unfortunately,
    most of the really good stuff comes in the first four chapters, leaving
    the rest of the volume somewhat anticlimactic. 
    The book is both reasonable and provocative, and makes an interesting
    counterpoint to much of the current discussion of privacy and technology. 
    Discussions of the important topics of privacy and encryption are both
    balanced and quite complete, providing those near to the fields with a
    useful primer.  In addition, Brin's more controversial points are well
    taken, and deserve serious consideration. 
    copyright Robert M. Slade, 1998   BKTRASOC.RVW   980919
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