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Database Nation : The Death of Privacy in the 21st Century
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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 --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From Library Journal
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Top Customer Reviews
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.Read more ›
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.Read more ›
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?
Most Recent Customer Reviews
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 morePublished on November 15, 2012 by David Hawkins
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
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 morePublished on December 28, 2007 by Shawn A. Freeman
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 morePublished on May 31, 2006 by Robert David STEELE Vivas
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 morePublished on February 7, 2005 by sixmonkeyjungle
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 morePublished on November 10, 2004 by Smok1
As we embark on the 21st century, advances in technology endanger our privacy in ways never before imagined. Read morePublished on September 1, 2004 by kgarlich
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 morePublished on April 7, 2004 by Craig Matteson
Simson Garfinkel's Database Nation is a frightening account of how our privacy is being infringed upon by government, industry and certain individuals. Read morePublished on October 24, 2002 by TDeptula