Sunday, April 10, 2005

The New York Times > Books > Sunday Book Review > Goodbye to Privacy

The New York Times > Books > Sunday Book Review > Goodbye to Privacy: "Robert O'Harrow Jr.'s ''No Place to Hide'' might just do for privacy protection what Rachel Carson's ''Silent Spring'' did for environmental protection nearly a half-century ago. The author, a reporter for The Washington Post, does not write in anger. Sputtering outrage, which characterizes the writing of many of us in the anti-snooping minority, is not O'Harrow's style. His is the work of a careful, thorough, enterprising reporter, possibly the only one assigned to the privacy beat by a major American newspaper. He has interviewed many of the major, and largely unknown, players in the world of surveillance and dossier assembly, and provides extensive source notes in the back of his book. He not only reports their professions of patriotism and plausible arguments about the necessity of screening to security, but explains the profitability to modern business of ''consumer relationship management.''
''No Place to Hide'' -- its title taken from George W. Bush's post-9/11 warning to terrorists -- is all the more damning because of its fair-mindedness. O'Harrow notes that many consumers find it convenient to be in a marketing dossier that knows their personal preferences, habits, income, professional and sexual activity, entertainment and travel interests and foibles. These intimately profiled people are untroubled by the device placed in the car they rent that records their speed and location, the keystroke logger that reads the characters they type, the plastic hotel key that transmits the frequency and time of entries and exits or the hidden camera that takes their picture at a Super Bowl or tourist attraction. They fill out cards revealing personal data to get a warranty, unaware that the warranties are already provided by law. ''Even as people fret about corporate intrusiveness,'' O'Harrow writes about a searching survey of subscribers taken by Conde Nast Publications, ''they often willingly, even eagerly, part with intimate details about their lives.''"

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