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Database Nation: The Death of Privacy in the 21st Century

January 17, 2000

Sebastopol, CA--O'Reilly and Associates has announced the release of Database Nation: The Death of Privacy in the 21st Century by Simson Garfinkel. Database Nation is about one of our most fundamental civil rights--the right to personal privacy--and the serious threats to that right that we are facing today.

Fifty years ago, in the book 1984, George Orwell imagined a future in which privacy was vanquished by a totalitarian state that used spies and video surveillance to maintain control. In 2000, we find that the threats to our privacy are not coming from a monolithic "Big Brother", but--even harder to grapple with--hundreds of sources, not seeking to control us, merely to market to us, track us, count us, or streamline paperwork.

The result, though, is still as chilling as 1984. Threats include:

  • The death of due process. In today's world, where we expect computers to be infallible, the smallest clerical error can have devastating effects on people's lives.

  • Biometrics. Fingerprints, iris scans, and genetic sequences make it possible to instantly identify every human being anywhere on the planet. What are the unintended consequences of not being able to conceal one's identity?

  • The misuse of medical information. The obligation to maintain patient confidentiality is widely regarded as one of the most basic responsibilities of medical professionals. But patient confidentiality is expensive and inefficient-two factors at odds with healthcare reform.

  • The systematic capture of everyday events. We have the technology to record and analyze every purchase we make, every place we visit, every word we say, and everything we read. How is that information being used, and how can we prevent its misuse?

  • The commodification of personal information. Your name, your profession, your hobbies are being turned into a valuable property right. But you don't own it. Businesses are seizing and selling bits of personal information about you to ensure continued profits and market share.

  • The bugging of the outside world. Microphones, video cameras, and other remote sensing devices are taking away the privacy we once thought we had in public places.

  • Runaway marketing. Marketers increasingly use personal information to create a barrage of solicitations that look just like news articles, personal letters, or other non-commercial communications.

  • Genetic autonomy. Breakthrough advances in genetics make it possible to predict disease, behavior, intelligence, and many other human traits-with differing levels of accuracy. Whether or not this information is correct, it will change how people are perceived and treated.

  • The individual as terrorist. Lethal technologies are now available to anyone who wants them. How can society protect itself from random acts of terrorism without putting all of us under surveillance? How can society protect itself from abuses by law enforcement officials, even when those abuses seem to be in the public interest?
Database Nation: The Death of Privacy in the 21st Century is the "Silent Spring" of 2000. Simson's hope is that this important new book will open the public's eyes to the many intrusions on our privacy before it is too late.

Simson Garfinkel will be on tour during early February. He is expected to visit Boston, New York City, Washington DC, Seattle, and San Francisco and is available for interviews.

In addition to discussing his extensive research on the threat of privacy violation, he has engaging (and frightening) stories of real people, whose lives were turned upside down by a breach of their privacy. He has also researched the personal information available on the Internet about himself, and is prepared to discuss the ramifications, accuracies, and inaccuracies of what could be found--quite easily--about his life, friends, and family, online.

Online Resources:

Database Nation: The Death of Privacy in the 21st Century
By Simson Garfinkel
1st Edition January 2000
1-56592-653-6, 320 pages, $24.95

Critical Acclaim for Database Nation

"Database Nation by Simson Garfinkel is a graphic and blistering indictment of the burgeoning technologies used by business, government, and others to invade the self--yourselves--and restrict both your 'freedom to' participate in power and your 'freedom from' abuses of power. The right of privacy is a constitutionally protected right, and its erosion or destruction undermines democratic society as it generates, in one circumstance after another, a new kind of serfdom. This book is one that you're entitled to take very personally."
--Ralph Nader, Consumer Advocate

"This is a chilling compendium of the myriad methods government and industry have revised to catalog and profile the preferences of American citizens. It is an essential handbook in the fight against the insidious erosion of a right so dear that freedom itself depends on it.
--The Hon. Edward J. Markey, U.S. House of Representatives

"Garfinkel has captured the depth and breadth of our ever-increasing privacy problems, demonstrating their insidious nature and the extreme difficulties that they present for all of us. This book is hugely important. It should be read by everyone. Wonderfully readable. Five stars."
--Peter G. Neumann, Author, Computer-Related Risks; Moderator, Risks Forum; Principal Scientist, Computer Science Lab, SRI International

"Database Nation marks a turning point in the national debate over the future of privacy. Here is the clearest accounting to date of the challenges we face and the steps we must take to preserve the most valued of personal freedoms."
--Marc Rotenberg, Director, Electronic Privacy Information Center

"Simson Garfinkel gives us a well-informed tour of the privacy landscape of tomorrow. His futuristic scenarios are chillingly plausible."
--Beth Givens, Author, The Privacy Rights Handbook and Director, Privacy Rights Clearinghouse

"Garfinkel has written both a comprehensive survey of threats to privacy in an electronic age and a sometimes subversive manifesto for how citizens can fight back to protect their human dignity. He has a humanist's perspective on what constitutes civilized living, a lawyer's understanding of the potential as well a the limits of the law, and a revolutionary's sense for how to threaten the power structure to cease and desist. A bravura performance that is bound to be the subject of controversy, not to mention some nervousness on the part of those who don't understand that we humans own much of the information that makes us unique."
--Harvey A. Silverglate, Attorney and Coauthor, The Shadow University: The Betrayal of Liberty on America's Campuses

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