In The Naked Crowd: Reclaiming Security and Freedom in an Anxious Age
Jeffrey Rosen attempts to diagnose the cause of what he sees as deteriorating liberty in the post-9/11 era. At the same time, he sketches some pathways toward a cure: a balance of security and privacy through legislation. The book provides a provocative--if occasionally simplistic--survey of sociological and psychological research regarding crowd behavior in reaction to a fear-inducing tragedy, but it loses its way in a general exploration of public exhibitionism, from blogs to reality TV. While Rosen doesn't argue that America is an Orwellian society, he suggests that, in the aftermath of 9/11, Americans are poised to trade their privacy and liberty for an increased feeling of security. The operative word for him is "feeling": people are, as he says, "more concerned about feeling safe than being safe." The crowd chases seeming high-tech "silver bullets" when it is often cheaper, low-tech, less-showy, and less invasive forms of screening that are most effective. In fact, in his compelling case study of Britain's CCTV he shows there is little evidence that the massive program--which photographs the average Briton with 300 separate security cameras each day--has done anything to reduce crime or terrorism. In the weakest part of the book, Rosen tries to connect his larger thesis about the need to balance privacy and security to the emergence of reality TV and the exhibitionism of blogs and other technologies. While his argument--that people in the modern era must expose their personal lives to win trust--offers some food for thought, this turns towards the entertainment industry seems misplaced in his march toward public policy. Overall, Rosen takes a melancholy view of the ability to change crowd dynamics in a media-saturated world. In his final chapter, he does hold out some hope, though. In particular, he argues for legislation emphasizing the dangers of discrimination inherent in many security screening technologies and Dataveillance. He hopes that this appeal to anti-discrimination may awaken the slumbering crowd to a looming crisis of unrestrained security technologies. While Rosen makes an interesting case in this thought-provoking book, it will probably take a more strident call for change to shift public opinion in the ways Rosen imagines. --Patrick O'Kelley
In an effort to predict where concerns about domestic security may lead us, Rosen takes the example of Britain. After two deadly I.R.A. bombings in London's financial district, the government mounted surveillance cameras on eight gates in the area. By now, the country has some four million cameras, and the average citizen is photographed by an estimated three hundred of them every day. But the cameras have yet to help capture a single terrorist. Rosen's wide-ranging and thoughtful defense of privacy rights suggests that the United States is highly susceptible to similar measures, citing an executive branch intent on stoking the public's post-9/11 anxieties and, more surprisingly, the voluntary surrender of privacy inherent in personal Web pages and reality TV shows. Despite Rosen's occasionally hectoring tone, his solution—that new security technologies be tamed with strong congressional restraints—is far too sensible to stand much chance of being implemented.
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