The Transparent Society

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The Transparent Society  
Author David Brin
Country USA
Language English
Genre(s) Non-fiction
Publisher Perseus Books
Publication date May 17, 1998
Media type hardback & paperback
Pages 384 pp (1st edition)
ISBN ISBN 0-7382-0144-8, ISBN 0-201-32802-X

The Transparent Society (1998) is a non-fiction book by the science-fiction author David Brin in which he forecasts the erosion of privacy, as it is overtaken by low-cost surveillance, communication and database technology. The work first appeared as a magazine article by Brin in Wired in late 1996.[1] In 2008, security expert Bruce Schneier called the work a myth,[2] a description Brin rebutted,[3] because it ignores wide differences in the relative power of those who access information.[2]


[edit] Synopsis

David Brin with sousveillance "maybecamera" at the Association of Computing Machinery's (ACM's) CFP conference where such a sousveillance device was given to each attendee. Brin participated in the Opening Keynote on the "inverse panopticon".

Brin argues that true privacy will be lost in the "transparent society"; however, we have the choice between one that offers the illusion of privacy by restricting the power of surveillance to authorities, or one that destroys that illusion by offering everyone access (including the ability to watch the watchers). He argues that it would be good for society if the surveillance is equal for all, and the public has the same access as those in power. He bases this argument upon the claim that the most dangerous and corrupt abuses of power go hand-in-hand with a lack of accountability and transparency. The collation of all publicly and privately available personal data in the United States by the Information Awareness Office is viewed by some as a move towards the more pessimistic of the possible futures envisaged by Brin in his book.

Brin also has written a novel, Kiln People, placed in a future where cameras are everywhere and everybody can access the public ones and, for a fee, the private ones.

[edit] Inverse transparency and bi-directional transparency

Transparency is sometimes confused with equiveillance (the balance between surveillance and sousveillance). This balance (equilibrium) allows the individual to construct their own case from evidence they gather themselves, rather than merely having access to surveillance data that could possibly incriminate them. Sousveillance therefore, in addition to Transparency, assures contextual integrity of surveillance data (i.e. a lifelong capture of personal experience can provide "best evidence" over surveillance data to prevent the surveillance-only data from being taken out of context).

Somewhat more nuanced than simply being "against privacy," Brin spends an entire chapter exploring how important some degree of privacy is for most human beings, allowing them moments of intimacy, to exchange confidences, and to prepare - in some security - for the competitive world. Nevertheless, he suggests that we currently have more privacy than our ancestors, in part, because "the last two hundred years have opened information flows, rather than shutting them down. Citizens are more able to catch violators of their rights - and hold them accountable - than commonfolk were in the old villages, that were dominated local gentry, gossips and bullies."

This might seem counter-intuitive at first. But he uses the song "Harper Valley PTA" as a metaphor for how people can protect their eccentricities, and even some privacy, by assertively "looking back." Brin also points to restaurants, in which social disapproval keeps people from staring and eavesdropping, even though they can. With enforcement possible because everybody can see.

From this perspective, a coming era of "most of the people, knowing most of what's going on, most of the time," would only be an extension of what already gave us the Enlightenment, freedom and privacy. By comparison, he asks what the alternative would be: "To pass privacy laws that will be enforced by elites, and trust them to refrain from looking at us?"

Brin participated in the opening keynote panel discussion at the 2005 Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) Computers, Freedom, and Privacy conference, where 500 sousveillance devices were also created to contextualize and explore this debate further. (Each attendee was given a wearable camera-dome bag which created, in effect, an inverse panopticon.)

[edit] See also

[edit] Notes

  1. ^ Brin, David (December, 1996). "The Transparent Society". Wired (CondéNet) (4.12). Retrieved on 2008-03-14. 
  2. ^ a b Schneier, Bruce (March 6, 2008). "The Myth of the 'Transparent Society'". Wired News (CondéNet). Retrieved on 2008-03-14. 
  3. ^ Brin, David (March 12, 2008). "David Brin Rebuts Schneier In Defense of a Transparent Society". Wired News (CondéNet). Retrieved on 2008-03-14. 

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