It is a meticulously researched, broad overview of how changes in technology and politics influence our privacy, security and freedom. As the author admits, elaboration of this text was inspired by Edward Snowden disclosing classified NSA materials, showing the extent to which people all over the world are invigilated by numerous government agencies. Bruce, a renowned digital security expert, was initially involved in helping journalists from The Guardian understand what was contained in more technical documents.
The book is divided into three parts. The first one describes our world, where every appliance is a computer, everyone is connected, there’s an app for everything - all resulting in enormous amounts of data, pumped each second through the internet. New business models emerged, monetizing user data (e.g. via targeted ads) in exchange for free services. We have traded privacy for convenience. All that information being gathered - unprecedented in history - prompted some governments to deploy mass surveillance programs, theoretically in order to detect terrorist activity. Although Snowden’s whistleblowing relates mainly to NSA and UK’s GCHQ, there are strong clues suggesting that other world powers do the same.
In second part, the author writes about negative effects of mass surveillance - notably the stifling of free speech - and what risks come from the abuse of power from secret agencies. Moreover, it is shown how data mining techniques are ineffective at finding terrorists, on the other hand being helpful in intimidating and controlling whole societies. Author focuses on privacy as an inherent human right, nowadays threatened by the fact that human interactions are losing their historically ephemeral nature; internet forgets nothing.
As Bruce Schneier is deeply convinced that all those changes are mostly harmful - to personal freedoms, transparency of government and police work, democratic procedures, justice etc. - the book, in its last part, concludes with author’s proposals on how to avoid more damage. Privacy and security can coexist; mass surveillance should be replaced with targeted one, allowed by warrant, along police procedures - not espionage (secret) ones. Companies should not yield to NSA claims to insert backdoors - so no bad guys can exploit them. Whichever company collects user data, should do so with transparent rules on how it is used. It is not yet too late to save privacy from waning - if only societies could see through free services and govt-instilled fear of terror, what is really at stake.
Some derogate this title for being biased against US federal agents, sworn to protect the country from terrorist threats and doing whatever it takes to get the job done. I would like to point out that the author does not negate the patriotic intentions of federal personnel; his criticism pertains to how whole agencies are organised (amassed power with little oversight) and how their recently-acquired mass-surveillance tools are not cut out for the job of finding terrorists. Those points are backed by numerous cited facts. On the other hand, it is not hidden that this whole book is an expression of Bruce Schneier’s beliefs; if he writes that privacy “is something we ought to have (...) because it is moral” - he does not have to elaborate too much on why he thinks that, does he? So, yes, the book might be called “biased” - as it supports the notion that some sacrifices, in the name of security, just can not be made. Personal freedoms are the foundation of western societies and must not be given away. I fully agree with Bruce - and suspect that a majority of US and EU inhabitants would too, have they pondered on what actually happened in the surveillance field in last two decades. This book really helps you in realising that.
All in all, I seriously doubt that anyone could write such a convincing and well substantiated book which would oppose “Data and Goliath” message - but, perversely, I would love to see one ;) A must read. For literally each of us.