cover image The Transparent Society: Freedom vs. Privacy in a City of Glass Houses

The Transparent Society: Freedom vs. Privacy in a City of Glass Houses

David Brin, G. David Brin. Basic Books, $25 (384pp) ISBN 978-0-201-32802-8

Science fiction writer Brin (The Uplift War) departs from technological fantasy to focus on the social and political ramifications of our information age. While addressing the technology-vs.-privacy debate, he offers an informed overview of the issues and a useful historical account of how current policies evolved. Also beneficial are his descriptions of the different viewpoints on encryption software, online anonymity, the Clipper Chip and techno-jargon. But when Brin opines on these topics, the book suffers from superficiality. He appends remarks to the end of each chapter as this: ""When you've been invited to a really neat party, try to dance with the one who brought you."" His main point--that information and criticism should flow unrestricted--is lost in a melange of armchair social science theory and unrelated observations on the media, morality, identity and manners. After making a thoughtful case for discouraging encryption and encouraging free speech on the Web, he undercuts his position by calling for e-mail civility, ""because people who lash out soon learn that it simply does not pay,"" then states that a balance can be achieved between these two extremes. Despite a strong beginning, Brin's book ultimately lacks clarity and originality. (May)