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THE END OF PRIVACY by Reg Whitaker

THE END OF PRIVACY

How Total Surveillance Is Becoming a Reality

By Reg Whitaker

Pub Date: Jan. 1st, 1999
ISBN: 1-56584-378-9
Publisher: New Press

York University (Canada) political scientist Whitaker offers a brilliant portrayal and analysis of the dangers of the “new information technology.” Many books have been written on the exponential growth and combination of computer and communication technology (read the Web, personal computers, communications satellites, computerized databases, and the like). Most of these books are very bad; this one is very good. The reason is that here the author begins not with the technology but with society, with “specific social and economic systems that support and deliver these technologies.” Basing his analysis on the work of French philosopher Michel Foucault, Whitaker argues that historically the modern capitalist state has created the “disciplinary society.” In various ways that the author clearly and cogently discusses, this state has elicited obedience through often subtle forms of surveillance. Aware of surveillance, citizens internalize certain “correct” behaviors and thus obey without coercion. In fact, though, there always exists the threat of coercion should citizens choose to resist, and they often do. Today, however, surveillance has become decentered; it’s no longer the monopoly of the state but may be practiced also by myriad elements within the private sector, particularly corporations. What makes such decentering possible is the “new information technologies.” Computers monitor our work lives; spy satellites can track our every move; huge databases are created that store the most minute details of our individual existences. (Whitaker examines all of this technology in great detail.) Surveillance remains, but Big Brother has become a bunch of Little Brothers. Resistance remains, too, but it becomes more difficult, argues Whitaker, as obedience is based less on fear of coercion than on the fear of losing the benefits new information technology provides, from home banking, to E-mail use, to maintaining a positive credit rating. Whitaker’s scholarship and writing are superb. One of the best books yet written on the now information age.