THE SOFT CAGE by Christian Parenti


Surveillance in America
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Forget about the right of privacy and the Fourth Amendment. So writes activist scholar Parenti (Lockdown America, not reviewed) in this informative account of governmental and corporate surveillance in America.

Government spying on its citizenry is nothing new, the author explains, deftly sketching the evolution of surveillance from slave passes to mug books to tracking devices worn by parolees. But its steady growth, the sophistication of its sources and tactics, the infection of overt surveillance by strategies from covert operations, is perhaps a good deal greater than the reader might realize. While the author deploys Foucault and Althusser to help us understand the culture of obedience, the kernel that most readers will find worth gnawing is Justice Brandeis’s plea for “the right to be left alone.” Parenti sharply explores the gray area between protection and invasion of privacy, in particular the way in which fear, patriotic vigor, and pop-cultural nonchalance (witness reality TV) can facilitate political and commercial misuse of the data highway. The sheer scope of surveillance, from smart cards to microchip implants, is, in his view, giving rise to an ultra-trusting, super-obedient postmodern subject for whom the issue of privacy is moot: “Underlying this question of obedience is the implicit assumption that state, corporate, and parental powers are infallible.” Yet, he points out, political and corporate means serve political and corporate ends, and their price tags can be exorbitant: racism, exploitation, manipulation. There is vulnerability in social anonymity, the author acknowledges, but such items as the USA Patriot Act undermine the notional freedoms that distinguish a democracy just as much as the freedom of speech. Parenti presents an argument resting on trust of the individual over the expedience of political and cultural criteria that determine insiders and outsiders. He reminds us that privacy protects, as democracy is meant to, the marginalized, the outcast, and the different.

Gives you a good stiff shake.

Pub Date: Sept. 15th, 2003
ISBN: 0-465-05484-6
Page count: 230pp
Publisher: Basic
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15th, 2003


NonfictionPRIVACY by Garret Keizer
by Garret Keizer