The Transparent Society by David Brin
Will Technology Force Us to Choose Between Privacy and Freedom?

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In New York and Baltimore, police cameras scan public areas twenty-four hours a day. Huge commercial databases track you finances and sell that information to anyone willing to pay. Host sites on the World Wide Web record every page you view, and “smart” toll roads know where you drive. Every day, new technology nibbles at our privacy.Does that make you nervous? David Brin is worried, but not just about privacy. He fears that society will overreact to these technologies by restricting the flow of information, frantically enforcing a reign of secrecy. Such measures, he warns, won’t really preserve our privacy. Governments, the wealthy, criminals, and the techno-elite will still find ways to watch us. But we’ll have fewer ways to watch them. We’ll lose the key to a free society: accountability.The Transparent Society is a call for “reciprocal transparency.” If police cameras watch us, shouldn’t we be able to watch police stations? If credit bureaus sell our data, shouldn't we know who buys it? Rather than cling to an illusion of anonymity-a historical anomaly, given our origins in close-knit villages-we should focus on guarding the most important forms of privacy and preserving mutual accountability. The biggest threat to our freedom, Brin warns, is that surveillance technology will be used by too few people, now by too many.A society of glass houses may seem too fragile. Fearing technology-aided crime, governments seek to restrict online anonymity; fearing technology-aided tyranny, citizens call for encrypting all data. Brins shows how, contrary to both approaches, windows offer us much better protection than walls; after all, the strongest deterrent against snooping has always been the fear of being spotted. Furthermore, Brin argues, Western culture now encourages eccentricity-we’re programmed to rebel! That gives our society a natural protection against error and wrong-doing, like a body’s immune system. But “social T-cells” need openness to spot trouble and get the word out. The Transparent Society is full of such provocative and far-reaching analysis.The inescapable rush of technology is forcing us to make new choices about how we want to live. This daring book reminds us that an open society is more robust and flexible than one where secrecy reigns. In an era of gnat-sized cameras, universal databases, and clothes-penetrating radar, it will be more vital than ever for us to be able to watch the watchers. With reciprocal transparency we can detect dangers early and expose wrong-doers. We can gauge the credibility of pundits and politicians. We can share technological advances and news. But all of these benefits depend on the free, two-way flow of information.

About David Brin

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Gregory Benford, Physicist and writer Professor Gregory Benford earned his Ph.D. from the University of California, San Diego in 1967. He's a Woodrow Wilson Fellow and a consultant for NASA. Benford's first novel "Deeper than the Darkness" (1970), which was revised as "The Stars in Shroud" (1978), gave him notice as a serious Science Fiction writer. His most popular work is "Timescape" (1980), which was the winner of the Nebula and John W. Campbell Memorial Awards; it presented a hard physics approach to limited time travel. "In the Ocean of Night" (1977), "Across the Sea of Suns" (1984), "Great Sky River" (1987), "Tides of Light" (1989) and "Furious Gulf" (1994) were all a part of the Galactic Cluster Series. He has also written the juvenile novel "Jupiter Project" (1975), "Against Infinity" (1983) and the thriller "Artifact" (1985). Benford, writing alternately with Bruce Sterling, produces science fact articles for the Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. They took over after the death of regular columnist Isaac Asimov. He has also co-edited theme anthologies with Martin H. Greenburg, which include "Hitler Victorious" (1986), "Nuclear War" (1988), "What Might Have Been, Volume 1: Alternate Empires" (1988), "Volume 2: Alternate Heroes" (1989) and "Volume 3: Alternate Wars. David Brin is a scientist, writer, and public speaker. He was born in Pasadena, California, on October 9, 1950. Brin attended the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) and later earned a doctorate at the University of California. He accepted a position as an engineer at Hughes Aircraft Company. Brin is a former fellow at the California Space Institute and serves on several government and nongovernment advisory committees dealing with issues involved with technological growth. Brin has lectured all over the world on such topics as space flight, ecology, and the search for extraterrestrial life. Brin deals with global warming, the destruction of the ozone layer, and pollution of Earth. His 1987 novel, The Uplift War, received the Hugo Award and the Locus Award. His novels have been translated into 20 languages.
Published May 7, 1999 by Basic Books. 386 pages
Genres: History, Political & Social Sciences, Computers & Technology, Science & Math. Non-fiction

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Kirkus Reviews

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Much as we feel a sense of privacy in the openness of a restaurant, so might a transparent society provide a sense, and the reality, of privacy much better than one in which surveillance is hidden but nevertheless there.

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Publishers Weekly

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Science fiction writer Brin (The Uplift War) departs from technological fantasy to focus on the social and political ramifications of our information age.

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The Atlantic

He has also contributed to a number of the country's other leading magazines and newspapers, including: The New Yorker, The New York Times Magazine, Foreign Policy, The New Republic, Time, and Slate, and the op-ed pages of The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The Financial Times.

Apr 12 2012 | Read Full Review of The Transparent Society: Will...

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