The End of Privacy
is a book about power--more specifically, it discusses surveillance as a powerful mechanism of social control. Philosophers such as Jeremy Bentham and Michel Foucault developed the concept of the "panopticon," an ideal prison where compliance with rules is guaranteed through complete and inescapable surveillance. Applying the principles involved to real-world examples that trace the development of surveillance technologies from Second World War military intelligence to the electronic data-veillance of the information revolution, Whitaker provides a thorough analysis of how our society may be gradually approaching panopticism.
Thanks to dramatic technological advances, surveillance monitoring can now provide nearly global coverage, exposing the everyday lives of ordinary people--in the workplace, at school, on the Internet, everywhere--to serve public, private, and prurient interests. Today, Whitaker notes, private-information brokers amass databases for an innumerable variety of commercial purposes--from credit reporting to mass marketing. Vast amounts of detailed personal information, including seemingly useless minutiae, end up in corporate hands. Orwell's monolithic Big Brother has fragmented into a myriad of Little Brothers, which add up to a powerful system with little or no accountability. Who, Whitaker asks, watches the watchers? --Tim Hogan
From Publishers Weekly
Whitaker makes a convincing and powerful case that Orwell had it only half right when he envisioned Big Brother smothering our privacy. With computers and other electronic devices playing an integral role in our lives, Whitaker argues that what now exists in developed countries is not a surveillance state but rather a surveillance society. It's the private sector, not the government, that is eroding individual privacy. Information technologies, Whitaker observes, are two-sided: the people most enabled and empowered by technology are also more vulnerable to surveillance and manipulation. From the information people fill out about themselves to obtain credit cards or a mortgage to the cameras that monitor activities in gated communities and public parks, average citizens are losing their privacy in myriad ways. Whitaker, a professor of political science at Toronto's York University and the coauthor of Cold War Canada, also argues that, far from wiping out poverty, the information revolution provides global corporations more power to keep Third World and underdeveloped countries under their thumb. Although there are some slow sections in this work, any reader who has ordered a book online can appreciate Whitaker's argument that people are knowingly or unknowingly sacrificing their privacy for the sale of convenience.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc.
Surveillance in the Internet Age is ubiquitous, and political scientist Whitaker breaks down the jumbled anxieties individuals hold, knowing that Big Brother, or rather many Little Brothers and Sisters, are watching our health, conversations, e-mails, credit, taxes, employment, and movements about town. In this descriptive rather than prescriptive analysis, Whitaker adopts as a conceptual tool an idea by the ur-mensch of utilitarianism, Jeremy Bentham, who designed a prison, neologistically named the Panopticon. The Panopticon endures as "a metaphor for the power of surveillance," explains Whitaker. The Panoptic principle (of inducing the observed to internalize the rules set by the observer) has spread from the security agencies of states into private commercial interests, such as database companies. Whitaker is intrigued by the acquiescence of people to this intrusive power; his answer is that they accept it as the cost of being a consumer. Politics concerns not simply elections, leaders, and policies; it is also a measure of one's liberty and personal power, and Whitaker's potent portrayal shows that people don't have as much autonomy as they believe. Gilbert Taylor
From Kirkus Reviews
York University (Canada) political scientist Whitaker offers a brilliant portrayal and analysis of the dangers of the new information technology. Many books have been written on the exponential growth and combination of computer and communication technology (read the Web, personal computers, communications satellites, computerized databases, and the like). Most of these books are very bad; this one is very good. The reason is that here the author begins not with the technology but with society, wi th ``specific social and economic systems that support and deliver these technologies.'' Basing his analysis on the work of French philosopher Michel Foucault, Whitaker argues that historically the modern capitalist state has created the ``disciplinary so ciety.'' In various ways that the author clearly and cogently discusses, this state has elicited obedience through often subtle forms of surveillance. Aware of surveillance, citizens internalize certain ``correct'' behaviors and thus obey without coercion . In fact, though, there always exists the threat of coercion should citizens choose to resist, and they often do. Today, however, surveillance has become decentered; its no longer the monopoly of the state but may be practiced also by myriad elements wit hin the private sector, particularly corporations. What makes such decentering possible is the ``new information technologies.'' Computers monitor our work lives; spy satellites can track our every move; huge databases are created that store the most minu te details of our individual existences. (Whitaker examines all of this technology in great detail.) Surveillance remains, but Big Brother has become a bunch of Little Brothers. Resistance remains, too, but it becomes more difficult, argues Whitaker, as o bedience is based less on fear of coercion than on the fear of losing the benefits new information technology provides, from home banking, to E-mail use, to maintaining a positive credit rating. Whitaker's scholarship and writing are superb. One of the be st books yet written on the now information age. -- Copyright ©1998, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.
A brilliant portrayal and analysis of the dangers of the new information technology. -- Kirkus Reviews, starred review
[A]rgues with precision and clarity that the Information Revolution isn't all it's cracked up to be. -- Free Press, John Hanchette, 8 April 2000
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About the Author
Reg Whitaker is a professor of political science at York University in Toronto. He is the author (with Gary Marcuse) of Cold War Canada and has published widely on politics, security, intelligence, and informational power in the modern world.
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