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A book by DavidBrin, ISBN 0738201448 (alternate, search). (BookShelved:DavidBrin, BookShelved:TheTransparentSociety)

Chapter One was available online [Archive: BrinCh1] on the CritDotOrg site.

Excerpt from Kirkus Review 1998-05-01, as cited by Amazon:

Privacy is assailed from all sides today. Electronic surveillance becomes more widespread even as it becomes less intrusive. Data on many aspects of our lives are gathered, bought, and sold. We are enmeshed in a web of electronic noise, a cyberworld of gossiping and snooping. Clearly, say those who would protect our privacy, regulation of such surveillance is necessary. Brin argues just the opposite: Rather than vainly attempting to save privacy, we should strive to create a society that is ever more transparent, ever more exposed. Technology, no matter how we may try to regulate it, will find ever more sophisticated and subtle ways to snoop. And the regulators will have to be regulated by another layer of government watchdogs. So, says Brin, let openness rule. Make bosses as accountable as employees, have government be watched by its citizens as much as it watches. Much as we feel a sense of privacy in the openness of a restaurant, so might a transparent society provide a sense, and the reality, of privacy much better than one in which surveillance is hidden but nevertheless there.


For a broad discussion of the subjects raised, see Wiki:TheTransparentSociety, CommunityOfGlassHouses.

Specific Points

See PracticalObscurity, OthernessMeme, AnonymityVsPseudonymity.

Points not discussed anywhere else follow below.

Main Points for Strong Privacy Advocates

A must read for all strong privacy advocates. Even if DavidBrin's optimistic view does not convince privacy advocates, the questions he raises need to be answered:

Main Points for Transparency

-- FridemarPache


One of the premises of the book is that anonymity facilitates crime. Anonymity prevents accountability. The point is that the best way to prevent crime out in the darkness of the streets is to know people's names.

The Writing Itself

The book is written in a style I recognize as being typically American: rambling, with thousands of anecdotes, facts and quotes. It makes interesting reading, but it also makes it hard to look things up. The fluid discussion prevents a clear structure. And so the table of contents is too coarse, the index not complete enough. There is no structure to capture the thousand little ideas in the book.


Transparency merely obfuscates two separate concepts, Surveillance and Sousveillance ("sous" French for "below" and "veiller" for "to watch"). To really understand these concepts in an organized fashion, we need to understand each one separately. The Sur/Sousveillance argument is very much like the "yin" and "yang" -- two necessary concepts, whereas "transparency" muddles these together. Merely suggesting that we take down barriers to informatic flow is not the answer. We first need to ensure the bidirectionality of the barriers, and we can only do that when we really understand the underlying concepts. See for example, http://wearcam.org/gas_stove_analogy.htm and http://wearcam.org/sousveillance.htm as described in the book [CYBORG] (Randomhouse Doubleday).

Steve Mann therein defines the term: "loosely speaking, sousveillance is watchful vigilance from underneath". For instance, citizens closely monitoring the actions of the state and its representatives, where surveillance is typically meant as the state closely monitoring its citizens.

Is this a partial fulfillment of one of Brin's predictions? [SurveillanceSaver] is an OS X screen saver that shows about 400 live security camera videos.

["To Gain Privacy, Be Totally Open"] mentions that "Too often, privacy has been equated with anonymity". Can we afford to lose a little anonymity if it gains a a little more of the privacy we value?


Google:TransparentSociety, Google:TheTransparentSociety


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