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The End of Privacy: how total surveillance is becoming a reality

james hörner

i began reading this book for an essay i was working on, but quickly found myself spending a good part of a day immersed in it. so instead of writing off the day as wasted time i figured i may as well at least write a review on it.

End of Privacy book cover in The End of Privacy Reg Whitaker, a professor of political science at york university in toronto, brings us a far reaching book with important implications. it begins by exploring how this has been a century of intelligence, fascinated with spies and fears of totalitarianism. quickly the book moves on to Jeremy Bentham and his famous 'panopticon' - a circular prison structure which was designed to keep an eye on all inmates at all times. the inmates would never know when they were being watched, and the director of such an institution played the role of god. although designs for the panopticon were never put into use, this notion lays the groundwork for The End of Privacy, because much of what french philosopher Michel Foucault had to say about Bentham's panopticon relates to the way we view technology, intelligence, privacy, and society today.

just as Bentham thought the idea of the panopticon could be used in all areas of life (schools, workplaces, etc), we are seeing areas once thought of as bastions of privacy (our homes) now being vulnerable to surveillance and intelligence gathering. with the rapid growth of technology (particularly computers) and information gathering techniques, there are few points in one's life which are private. as things advance, this private space rapidly disappears.

by raising issues such as cell-phones, surveillance satellites, the public availability of spy equipment, and the internet (censorship, privacy, etc.), Whitaker examines the changing face of society, and how these changes represent both positive advances and potential dangers. in an age where information is, more than ever, a commodity, people need to arm themselves with information in order to be at least partially conscious of the implications of technology in this increasingly wired world.

of course this book isn't nearly long enough (it could be double its size), and couldn't possibly cover all the angles, but The End of Privacy is certainly a good primer for anyone wanting to find out more about how the changing world is affecting private lives.

published by the new press
ISBN 1-56584-378-9

james hörner edits canadian content.

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