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Publisher's Summary

An important look at how 50 years of American privacy law is inadequate for today's surveillance technology, from acclaimed Ars Technica senior business editor Cyrus Farivar.

Until the 21st century, most of our activities were private by default, public only through effort; today, anything that touches digital space has the potential (and likelihood) to remain somewhere online forever. That means all of the technologies that have made our lives easier, faster, better, and/or more efficient have also simultaneously made it easier to keep an eye on our activities. Or, as we recently learned from reports about Cambridge Analytica, our data might be turned into a propaganda machine against us.

In 10 crucial legal cases, Habeas Data explores the tools of surveillance that exist today, how they work, and what the implications are for the future of privacy.

©2018 Cyrus Farivar (P)2018 Tantor

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  • Philo
  • San Diego, CA, United States
  • 07-13-18

Who monitors the monitors?

This book operates on several levels. It tells a history of advancing surveillance technologies, their deployment (usually from military origins, via private makers) into law enforcement, and finally, the clashes between these methods and members of the public in criminal cases. Finally, in most instances, some third non-interested party with an interest in clarifying rights gets some look at what has transpired. And finally, come kind of constraints are put on law enforcement (or not) for the particular technology involved. In one case this required a meticulous, focused criminal defendant to fire multiple defense attorneys, work countless hours, and drag the system (and its funding) against all its inertia kicking and screaming, inch by inch, through a criminal case (ultimately settled), before most members of the government who were funding (and ostensibly overseeing) law enforcement first glimpsed the existence of a cell phone tracker in wide deployment -- the "sting ray." The existence of this device and its use had been conveniently left out of warrants, reports, and so on: it was being used without accountability. Often these uses result in vast warehousing of who-knows-what-all data for unknown (and unconstrained) time periods, potentially for use in some hypothetical different future when the usefulness of the data to get at someone becomes apparent. If this sounds incredibly awkward, almost a random and accidental way to govern, you have seen a major theme of this book. Along the way, as we meet people and hear stories, we are briefed on various technologies and then related legal doctrines the courts and legislatures have carved out. The greatest hits in Supreme Court law are reviewed (from the Katz case in the 1960s until around 2017), and their rules and yardsticks for measuring privacy are well explained. We have a look at listening devices atop a phone booth, phone company pen registers, metadata sweeps, license plate readers, government-installed spyware, border searches, orders to decrypt devices, cell phone towers and location data, etc., the legal frameworks for each, and how governments from the local police to federal officers and agencies are handling these matters. The book keeps a nice balance between human-interest stories and technical issues. It provides heaps of background and context for this now fast-moving area (being published just as two big events hit the news, the Supreme Court's Carpenter case on cell phone location data, and a new set of California statutes somewhat resembling the new European privacy laws). I feel well briefed now, to step into the study of the current events.
Behind it all, one astonishing thing is the blitheness of the USA public in the face of these vast changes. The book closes with a look at a technology screening committee in Oakland, CA, seeming amazingly ad hoc and like a flea on the bow of a vast ship steaming forward at full speed into challenging and murky waters. It does seem belatedly Congress is stirring, and we will see how far that goes, and where it goes. On the evidence of this book, I'm pretty concerned.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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Blend of history, law, technology, and sociology

Cyrus does a really nice job of telling the stories behind the cases in an engaging way, backed up by very deep research.

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Great book, scary information!

This book provides an in-depth analysis of historical and current constitutional privacy rights issues that rivals a law school course in its thoroughness and careful research. Not at all dry and so pertinent to today's wired world.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful