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Database Nation: The Death of Privacy in the 21st Century [Kindle Edition]

Simson Garfinkel
3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (37 customer reviews)

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Book Description

Fifty years ago, in 1984, George Orwell imagined a future in which privacy was demolished by a totalitarian state that used spies, video surveillance, historical revisionism, and control over the media to maintain its power. Those who worry about personal privacy and identity--especially in this day of technologies that encroach upon these rights--still use Orwell's "Big Brother" language to discuss privacy issues. But the reality is that the age of a monolithic Big Brother is over. And yet the threats are perhaps even more likely to destroy the rights we've assumed were ours.Database Nation: The Death of Privacy in the 21st Century shows how, in these early years of the 21st century, advances in technology endanger our privacy in ways never before imagined. Direct marketers and retailers track our every purchase; surveillance cameras observe our movements; mobile phones will soon report our location to those who want to track us; government eavesdroppers listen in on private communications; misused medical records turn our bodies and our histories against us; and linked databases assemble detailed consumer profiles used to predict and influence our behavior. Privacy--the most basic of our civil rights--is in grave peril.Simson Garfinkel--journalist, entrepreneur, and international authority on computer security--has devoted his career to testing new technologies and warning about their implications. This newly revised update of the popular hardcover edition of Database Nation is his compelling account of how invasive technologies will affect our lives in the coming years. It's a timely, far-reaching, entertaining, and thought-provoking look at the serious threats to privacy facing us today. The book poses a disturbing question: how can we protect our basic rights to privacy, identity, and autonomy when technology is making invasion and control easier than ever before?Garfinkel's captivating blend of journalism, storytelling, and futurism is a call to arms. It will frighten, entertain, and ultimately convince us that we must take action now to protect our privacy and identity before it's too late.

Editorial Reviews Review

Forget the common cold for a moment. Instead, consider the rise of "false data syndrome," a deceptive method of identification derived from numbers rather than more recognizable human traits. Simson Garfinkel couples this idea with concepts like "data shadow" and "datasphere" in Database Nation, offering a decidedly unappealing scenario of how we have overlooked privacy with the advent of advanced technology.

According to Garfinkel, "technology is not privacy neutral." It leaves us with only two choices: 1) allow our personal data to rest in the public domain or 2) become hermits (no credit cards, no midnight video jaunts--you get the point).

Garfinkel's thoroughly researched and example-rich text explores the history of identification procedures; the computerization of ID systems; how and where data is collected, tracked, and stored; and the laws that protect privacy. He also explains who owns, manipulates, ensures the safety of, and manages the vast amount of data that makes up our collective human infrastructure. The big surprise here? It's not the United States government who controls or manages the majority of this data but rather faceless corporations who trade your purchasing habits, social security numbers, and other personal information just like any other hot commodity.

There's a heck of a lot of data to digest about data here and only a smidgen of humor to counterbalance the weight of Garfinkel's projections. But then again, humor isn't really appropriate in connection with stolen identities; medical, bank, and insurance record exploitation; or the potential for a future that's a "video surveillance free-for-all."

In many information-horrific situations, Garfinkel explores the wide variety of data thievery and the future implications of larger, longer-lasting databases. "Citizens," Garfinkel theorizes, "don't know how to fight back even though we know our privacy is at risk." In a case study involving an insurance claim form, he explains how a short paragraph can grant "blanket authorization" to all personal (not just medical) records to an insurance company. Citizens who refuse to sign the consent paragraph typically must forfeit any reimbursement for medical services. Ultimately, "we do not have the choice [as consumers] either to negotiate or to strike our own deal."

The choice that we do have, however, is to build a world in which sensitive data is respected and kept private--and the book offers clever, "turn-the-tables" solutions, suggesting that citizens, government, and corporations cooperate to develop weaker ID systems and legislate heavier penalties for identification theft.

Garfinkel's argument does give one pause, but his paranoia-laden prose and Orwellian imagination tends to obscure the effectiveness of his argument. Strangely, for all his talk about protecting your privacy, he never mentions how to remove your personal information from direct mail and telemarketing groups. And while he would like for Database Nation to be as highly regarded (and timely) as Rachel Carson's Silent Spring, the fact remains that we're not going to perish from having our privacy violated. --E. Brooke Gilbert

From Library Journal

If you have a computer with Intel's "processor serial number," own a pet with an embedded "radio frequency identification device," use ATMs and credit cards, and shop on the Internet, privacy is almost a nonexistent concept, because your every move is being tracked and stored somewhere for future use. Garfinkel, who has reported on computer privacy issues for Wired and other publications, is an exceptional writer who clearly understands his topic; here he explores today's threats to privacy and how they might be stopped. This is for all libraries.
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.

Product Details

  • File Size: 1540 KB
  • Print Length: 338 pages
  • Simultaneous Device Usage: Unlimited
  • Publisher: O'Reilly Media; 1 edition (July 14, 2008)
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B0026OR2OA
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #330,659 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

3.6 out of 5 stars
3.6 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
34 of 37 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Understanding one of the defining issues in computing February 12, 2000
First, of all, I should disclose what is probably a conflict of interest. Simson and I have been friends for years, and we have collaborated on a number of projects, including 3 books. As such, some people (who don't know me well) might suspect that I wouldn't provide an objective review. So, if you think that might be the case, then discount my recommendation by half -- and still buy and read this book. Simson has done an outstanding job documenting and describing a set of issues that a great many people -- myself included -- believe will influence computing, e-commerce, law and public policy in the next decade. They also impact every person in modern society.
This book describes -- well, and with numerous citations -- how our privacy as individuals and members of groups has been eroding. Unfortunately, that erosion is accelerating, and those of us involved with information technology are a significant factor in that trend. Credit bureaus accumulate information on our spending, governments record the minutiae of their citizens' lives, health insurance organizations record everything about us that might prove useful to deny our claims, and merchants suck up every bit of information they can find so as to target us for more marketing. In each case, there is a seemingly valid reason, but the accumulated weight of all this record-keeping -- especially when coupled with the sale and interchange of the data -- is frightening. Simson provides numerous examples and case studies showing how our privacy is incrementally disappearing as more data is captured in databases large and small.
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30 of 35 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Integrity January 25, 2000
What cyberspace requires is authors who are willing to interrogate "what we all know is true" to see, in fact, whether what we all know *is* true. This book has an extraordinary integrity to it, as it reopens a set of questions that most of us thought closed. You won't agree with everything, there are many questions left unresolved, but there is no doubt that in places this book will change you mind. It is the best book on privacy and the internet that I have seen.
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30 of 37 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Factual errors undercut Garfinkel's arguments February 18, 2001
Privacy has become an apple pie issue. These days everyone is for it, and most people assume that there is a "right to privacy" articulated somewhere in the US Constitution, but there is actually little consensus in our society about what "privacy" really means, let alone "right to privacy." Alas, Garfinkel never quite puts forward a satisfying definition of privacy in Database Nation. He predicts (correctly) that the "right to privacy" will be one of the most important civil rights in the 21st Century, and (incorrectly) that "the federal government may be our best hope for privacy protection as we move into the new millennium." When examined more closely, most of the invasions of privacy he cites are actually violations of due process, negligence, inaccurate data, abuses of the nanny state, or outright fraud.
The book suffers from so many errors that space does not allow me to identify them all.
Garfinkel misstates the federal law regarding social security numbers and driver licenses. He also seems unclear on the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA). According to Garfinkel, the FCRA "forbids the release of the information for noncredit or insurance purposes, such as direct marketing or 'people-finding' services." The truth is more complicated, but you wont find it in Database Nation.
Garfinkel's discussion of identity fraud is misinformed, and he passes along uncritically too much received wisdom about the issue. He seems to think that consumer credit reports contain the mother's maiden name of the consumer and that "lookup services make this information available, at minimal cost, over the Internet." Wrong on both counts.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Good Premise, Contradictory Solutions May 3, 2000
The basic premise of this book is that today's database-centric technology threatens our privacy. A good topic and the book is written in a "joe public" style so you don't need to be a computer geek to follow the stories. However, many of his "solutions" to database induced problems call for more databases; usually government owned and operated - George Orwell would be proud.
For example, one case presented has to do with a couple who sold their home and moved elsewhere. The IRS's database "goofed" and started sending notices to the couple at their old address. Because the IRS mailings are stamped "Do not forward" the couple never received them and the IRS eventually put a lien on their house. The couple only found out about this after being rejected for a credit card renewal. The author writes, "A national database [containing data on every individual in the country] could have headed off the excesses of the credit reporting industry."
Isn't this what the author is arguing against?
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Visionary
Simson strikes again! Once again Simson is ahead of his time and exactly correct with the problems we're seeing in an electronic and record based society. Read more
Published 22 months ago by David Hawkins
1.0 out of 5 stars Outdated, inaccurate, shallow, full of crap
One thing I seriously do not understand at all:

You're writing a book about privacy. You criticize people exposing their private lives, criticize everything under the... Read more
Published on March 1, 2010 by Burju
3.0 out of 5 stars A little dated...
Overall this is a good book, provided that you take it for what it is - an opinion piece. There are plenty of facts included in this book (many of which are out-of-date). Read more
Published on December 28, 2007 by Shawn A. Freeman
4.0 out of 5 stars Quite Useful Exploration of Technology vs. Values
I have been reading books about privacy, notably from Australia where they first got worried about this, and am an admirer of the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) based... Read more
Published on May 31, 2006 by Robert David STEELE Vivas
5.0 out of 5 stars how Much IS Big Brother Watching?
This is an older book, but one that I specifically requested after reading books like Myth of Homeland Security by Marcus Ranum and Beyond Fear by Bruce Schneier. Read more
Published on February 7, 2005 by sixmonkeyjungle
4.0 out of 5 stars Good, but lacks other side of the story...
Good book, especially for someone living on the other side of the world... From European point of view, such privacy violations are something unbelievable. Read more
Published on November 10, 2004 by Smok1
4.0 out of 5 stars Rapidly increasing technologies invade our rights to privacy
As we embark on the 21st century, advances in technology endanger our privacy in ways never before imagined. Read more
Published on September 1, 2004 by kloman
3.0 out of 5 stars Would have been better without the science fiction
This book dashed the high hopes I had for it. There are many very good reasons to be concerned about the ways technology can be used to curtail our civil liberties and constrict... Read more
Published on April 7, 2004 by Craig Matteson
4.0 out of 5 stars Who's Watching Me Now?
Simson Garfinkel's Database Nation is a frightening account of how our privacy is being infringed upon by government, industry and certain individuals. Read more
Published on October 24, 2002 by TDeptula
1.0 out of 5 stars lacks global perspective, highly misleading
This book has more to do with American politics than negative implication of advanced technology like it is trying to shoot for. Read more
Published on July 8, 2002
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