A sometimes-overwrought but provocative history of the internet-equipped security state, implicating key players in the digital economy in the game of espionage.
Even paranoiacs have enemies, as some wag once observed. Levine (The Corruption of Malcolm Gladwell, 2012, etc.), a tech-savvy investigative journalist who was born in Russia, documents an army of them in his wide-ranging look at the way governments and companies alike spy on ordinary citizens. That the internet grew from the defense industry and its dream of all-knowing supercomputers is old news; Levine looks at the malevolence behind it, writing about “America’s belligerent nuclear policy.” (It surely would have been belligerent had Curtis LeMay been successful in his drive to drop an atomic bomb on Hanoi, but he wasn’t; the point is eminently debatable.) From defense-related research came the spread of cybernetics and cybernetic metaphors in all sorts of sciences, from economics to biology, and the idea that information could be linked to power to “create a controlled utopian society, where computers and people were integrated into a cohesive whole.” That age may well have come, though whether it has reached the stage of “big data totalitarianism,” as Levine puts it, is again debatable. Where the book reaches its pinnacle of interest is also where it threatens to become unhinged. Here, the snake begins eating its own tail and encryption technologies such as Tor and Signal are linked not just to WikiLeaks, but also the National Security Agency as honeypots that “provide a false solution to the privacy problem, focusing people’s attention on government surveillance and distracting them from the private spying carried out by the Internet companies they use every day.”
Levine’s arguments aren’t entirely persuasive, but readers will be forgiven for hereafter not wanting to entrust too much information to the likes of Google, Facebook, and Amazon, to say nothing of the feds.