Vous voulez voir cette page en français ? Cliquez ici.

Have one to sell? Sell yours here
Tell the Publisher!
I'd like to read this book on Kindle

Don't have a Kindle? Get your Kindle here, or download a FREE Kindle Reading App.

Ben Franklin's Web Site: Privacy and Curiosity from Plymouth Rock to the Internet [Paperback]

Robert Ellis Smith
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)

Available from these sellers.

Join Amazon Student in Canada

Book Description

June 2000
This new book explores the hidden niches of American history to discover the tug between Americans' yearning for privacy and their insatiable curiosity. The book describes Puritan monitoring in Colonial New England, then shows how the attitudes of the founders placed the concept of privacy in the Constitution. This panoramic view continues with the coming of tabloid journalism in the Nineteenth Century, and the reaction to it in the form of a new right - the right to privacy. The book includes histories of wiretapping, of credit reporting, of sexual practices, of Social Security numbers and ID cards, of modern principles of privacy protection, and of the coming of the Internet and the new challenges to personal privacy it brings.

"Robert Ellis Smith's expose of privacy invasion will be one of the sleeper best-selling books in the year 2000," wrote columnist William Safire in The New York Times, December 1999. "His numerous books are required reading for anyone concerned about the ongoing threats," said Simson Garfinkel in Database Nation, 2000.

Here's a chapter-by-chapter description: "Watchfulness" describes church monitoring in the Colonial period. "Serenity" shows the craving for solitude by our founders, which shaped the rights they enshrined in the Constitution. "Mistrust" recounts early battles over confidentiality in the Post Office, the Census, and Western Union. "Space" describes the quest for privacy in living arrangements (including the first moves to suburbia after the Civil War) and the lack of privacy on Southern plantations. "Curiosity" traces the epic development of sensational journalism in the Nineteenth Century. "Brandeis" chronicles how Louis Brandeis reacted to gossip journalism and other new technology by "inventing" a legal right to privacy. "Wiretaps" is the story of electronic surveillance from the invention of the telephone to the 1970s.

"Sex" traces changing attitudes towards sexual privacy over two centuries, and provides a chronicle of a Clintonesque sex scandal that changed attitudes forever after the 1880s. "Torts" describes court battles that eventually provided great latitude for gossip journalism. "The Constitution" is a remarkable new look at the very narrow decisions of the Supreme Court that shaped the very narrow Constitutional protections for privacy in the Twenty-first Century.

"Numbers" tells for the first time where Social Security numbers came from and how they are used now, and describes subtle political efforts to create a universal identity document in the U.S. "Databanks" provides histories of credit reporting, database marketing, and government record keeping from the 1950s to the present. "Cyberspace" is a look back at the overnight development of the World Wide Web and its impact on personal privacy.

Lastly, the epilogue entitled "Ben Franklin's Web Site" offers specific tips for protecting your privacy. It is modern guidance that Ben Franklin himself would have provided on his Web site.

Customers Who Bought This Item Also Bought

Product Details

Product Description


"A historical and anecdotal style that should appeal to readers of all kinds, from the casually curious to the legally sophsticated." -- The Federal Lawyer, August 2000 (Attorney Jeremiah S. Gutman)

"An all-fact fiesta. A must-read. To enhance your beach-reading experience, Smith does a fabulous job of explaining... -- Seattle Weekly

"His numerous books are required reading for anyone concerned about the ongoing threats." -- Simson Garfinkel, in Database Nation, published by O'Reilly, 2000

"Robert Ellis Smith's expose of privacy invasion will be one of the sleeper best-selling books in the year 2000." -- William Safire, columnist, The New York Times, December 30, 1999

"The most practical of [the new privacy books], with its mix of readable history and sensible advice on what to do about your own privacy." -- Wall Street Journal (Robert Templer) Oct. 30, 2000

"an engaging and exhaustive historical survey" -- Reason magazine, October 2000

"will appeal to anyone with a casual or deep interest; manages to cover a lot of familiar topics..." -- Robert Gellman, Democrats.com

From the Author

"In the course of writing and publishing a monthly newsletter about the right to privacy, I have practiced the advice attributed to Eleanor Roosevelt: "Go out and see for yourself. Make others see what you've seen." This book is the product of that endeavor. Since 1974 when I began publishing Privacy Journal newsletter, writing books on the subject, and advocating increased recognition of the right to privacy, I have been accumulating lots of files. In one of those folders marked "History of Privacy," I kept items like the one about FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover complaining about clandestine sex in the motor courts of the 1930s. Then I found an intriguing observation from the French humorist Paul Blouet late in the Nineteenth Century about the typical American, "Meeting you in a railway carriage, he will ask you point blank where you are going, what you are doing, and where you are from. By degrees, he grows bolder." At that point I formed the idea for a book on the history of privacy. But this story is about more than privacy. (Secretly, I have long felt that Americans are a little bit nervous about the subject - and probably reluctant to read a whole book about privacy.) Nearly all other books about privacy assume that this is a positive value shared by all Americans. I'm not sure that it is. Our feelings about personal privacy - our privacy and everyone else's - are ambivalent. To understand why, you have to look to all aspects of our culture. When you do, you discover that we value our curiosity more than our privacy."

Inside This Book (Learn More)
First Sentence
Since this continent was settled from Europe, Americans have quested for personal privacy, first in our physical space and later in the use of our personal information. Read the first page
Explore More
Browse Sample Pages
Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
Search inside this book:

Sell a Digital Version of This Book in the Kindle Store

If you are a publisher or author and hold the digital rights to a book, you can sell a digital version of it in our Kindle Store. Learn more

Customer Reviews

4 star
3 star
2 star
1 star
5.0 out of 5 stars
5.0 out of 5 stars
Most helpful customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Broad and accurate - a wonderful book May 8 2004
Ben Franklin's Web Site is a wonderful book - clear, detailed, engaging, hype-free.
So many books have been published on the topic of privacy (especially in recent years). Robert Ellis Smith has written one of those rare pieces that offer a balanced view and provide a truly broad approach to privacy's multifaceted issues. Smith covers historical, philosophical, technological, and legal aspects of the privacy debate, current threats, as well as the relations between privacy and the economic environment. His material is presented in a story-like, chronological order full of interesting anecdotes that grip the attention. Reading this book was a delight.
Was this review helpful to you?
5.0 out of 5 stars Ben Franklin's Web Site June 8 2000
With more than 25 years of experience writing on privacy issues in his newsletter, Privacy Journal, Smith has written a clear, readable history of privacy in America that weaves the various threads of and threats to privacy together in a well-documented fashion. From Americans' insatiable curiosity to the tabloid press, from mistrust of the census to the endless collection of personal information we face today, Smith examines it all thoroughly and cogently. Certainly the best book on privacy I have read. Highly recommended both for those who know something about the area already and those who would like to know more.
Was this review helpful to you?
Robert Ellis Smith brings the privacy debate back home and to an understandable level in "Ben Franklin's Web Site : Privacy and Curiosity from Plymouth Rock to the Internet." Many privacy books dwell on obscure legal cases that bore the reader to a near state of torpidity. Not so with Mr. Smith's common sense descriptions and explanations of privacy issues throughout the American experience. Aside from giving the reader the ability to understand the importance of privacy in a number of critical facets, this book is just plain fun to read.
Was this review helpful to you?
Want to see more reviews on this item?

Look for similar items by category