Sunday, November 08, 2015

Thoughts on Schneier's Data & Goliath: an unsettling, but perhaps accurate, vision of our "surveillance society"

I read Bruce Schneier's book Data and Goliath with great interest. It convincingly describes how unbeknownst to most we effectively live in a "surveillance society" -- from the very targeted type of surveillance undertaken by spies to the mass large-scale surveillance practiced by automated computer programs often run by companies. We get useful services in return for this bargain, but the book definitely focuses on the downside.

The book does not talk that much about the technical developments underlying the surveillance and perhaps the various technical fixes by which we might be able to have a somewhat different world. It does of course talk a bit about encryption and how useful it is. It mentions some useful practical tools that people can use, but I am sure these will become out-of-date very quickly.

The book ends with an idea that we need to regulate a lot of aspects of surveillance and privacy and the way we deal with our data exhaust in a similar way to how the Environmental Protection Agency regulates normal pollution and exhaust. We cannot imagine being in a world where people pollute the world without consequence and the author envisions that in the future we will have similar feelings about being in a world where others are allowed to snoop without check.

Altogether a very interesting read though, and I would highly recommend it to others.
Data and Goliath: The Hidden Battles to Collect Your Data and Control Your World
by Bruce Schneier