Become a fan of Slashdot on Facebook


Forgot your password?
Books Privacy Book Reviews

Book Review: Data and Goliath 51

benrothke writes Data and Goliath: The Hidden Battles to Collect Your Data and Control Your World, author Bruce Schneier could have justifiably written an angry diatribe full of vitriol against President Obama and the NSA for their wholesale spying on innocent Americans and violations of myriad laws. Instead, he was written a thoroughly convincing and brilliant book about big data, mass surveillance and the ensuing privacy dangers facing everyone. A comment like what's the big deal? often indicates a naiveté about a serious significant underlying issue. The idea that if you have nothing to hide you have nothing to fear is a dangerously narrow concept on the value of privacy. For many people the notion that the NSA was performing spying on Americans was perceived as not being a big deal, since if a person is innocent, then what do they have to worry about. In the book, Schneier debunks that myth and many others, and defends the importance of privacy. Keep reading for the rest of Ben's review.
Data and Goliath: The Hidden Battles to Collect Your Data and Control Your World
author Bruce Schneier
pages 400
publisher W. W. Norton and Company
rating 10/10
reviewer Ben Rothke
ISBN 978-0393244816
summary Important defense of privacy and expose on the dangers of NSA domestic mass surveillance
Schneier writes that privacy is an essential human need and central to our ability to control how we relate to the world. Being stripped of privacy is fundamentally dehumanizing and it makes no difference whether the surveillance is conducted by an undercover police officer following us around or by a computer algorithm tracking our every move.

The book notes that much of the data sharing is done voluntarily from users via social media and other voluntary sharing methods. But the real danger is that the NSA has unlawfully been conducting mass surveillance on Americans, in violation of the Constitution and other Federal laws. And with all of that, the book observed that after spending billions doing it, the NSA has very little to show for its efforts.

While the NSA has often said they were just collecting metadata; Schneier writes that metadata can often be more revealing than the data itself, especially when it's collected in the aggregate. And even more so when you have an entire population under surveillance. How big of a deal is metadata? Schneier quotes former NSA and CIA director Michael Hayden that "we kill people based on metadata".

The book spends chapters detailing the dangers of mass data collection and surveillance. It notes that the situation is exacerbated by the fact that we are now generating so much data and storing it indefinitely. People can now search 20 years back and find details that were long thought to have been forgotten. Today's adults were able to move beyond their youthful indiscretions; while today's young people will not have that freedom. Their entire life histories will be on the permanent record.

Another harm of mass government surveillance is the way it leads to people being categorized and discriminated against. Since much of the data is gathered in secret, citizens don't have the right to see or refute it. Schneier notes that this will intensify as systems start using surveillance data to make decisions automatically.

Schneier makes numerous references to Edward Snowden and views him as a hero. He views Snowden's act as being courageous since it resulted in the global conversation about surveillance being made available. Had it not been for Snowden, this book would never have been written.

Schneier does a good job of showing how many of the methods used by the NSA were highly questionable, and based on extremely broad readings of the PATRIOT ACT, Presidential directives and other laws.

The book notes that not only has mass surveillance on US citizens provided extremely little return on the tens of billions of dollars spent; the very strategy of basing security on irrational fears is dangerous. The book notes that many US agencies were faulted after 9/11 and the Boston Marathon bombing for not connecting the dots. But connecting the dots against terrorist plots is extraordinarily difficult, if not impossible. Given the rarity of these events, the book notes that they current systems produce so many false positives as to render them useless.

Schneier straight-out says that ubiquitous surveillance and data minding are not suited for finding dedicated criminals or terrorists. The US is wasting billions on these programs and not getting the security they have been promised. Schneier suggests using the money on investigations, intelligence and emergency response; programs whose tactics have been proven to work.

Schneier makes many suggestions on how to stop the mass surveillance by the NSA. His biggest suggestion is to separate espionage agencies from the surveillance agencies. He suggests that government surveillance of private citizens should only be done as part of a criminal investigation. These surveillance activities should move outside of the NSA and the military and should instead come under the auspices of the FBI and Justice Department, which will apply rules of probable cause, due process and oversight to surveillance activities in regular open courtrooms. As opposed to the secret United States Foreign Intelligence Surveillance courts.

Schneier notes that breaking up the NSA is a long-range plan, but it's the right one. He also suggests reducing the NSA's budget to pre-9/11 levels, which would do an enormous amount of good.

While Schenier comes down hard on mass surveillance, he is also rational enough to know that there are legitimate needs for government surveillance, both law enforcement and intelligence needs to do this and we must recognize that. He writes that we must support legitimate surveillance and work on ways for these groups to do what they need without violating privacy, subverting security and infringing on citizens' rights to be free of unreasonable suspicion and observation.

The book concludes with a number of things that can be done. At the personal level there is a lot people can legitimately do to stop sharing so much personal information. But for most people, they would rather reap the short-term benefits of sharing information on social media, with retailers and more; than the long-term privacy benefits.

The book also notes that much of the problem stems with federal agencies since keeping the fear stoked is big business. For those in the intelligence agencies, that is the basis of their influence and power. Schneier also lays some of the blame on the media who stoke the irrational fears in the daily news. By fixating on rare and spectacular events, the media conditions us to behave as if terrorism were much more common than it is and to fear it far out of proportion to its actual incidence.

This is an incredibly important book. Schenier is passionate about the subject, but provides an extremely reasonably set of arguments. Superbly researched, Schneier lays out the facts in a clear, concise and extremely readable manner. The book is at times disturbing, given the scope and breadth of the NSA surveillance program.

This is the perfect book to take with you on a long flight. It's a compelling and engrossing read, and important book and a major wake-up call. The NSA knows all about you via its many total information awareness programs. In Data and Goliath: The Hidden Battles to Collect Your Data and Control Your World, Bruce Schneier provides the total information awareness about what the NSA is doing, how your personal data is being mined, and what you can do about it.

While the NSA was never able to connect the dots of terrorists, Schneier has managed to connect the dots of the NSA. This is a book that must be read, for your freedom.

Reviewed by Ben Rothke.

You can purchase Data and Goliath: The Hidden Battles to Collect Your Data and Control Your World from Slashdot welcomes readers' book reviews (sci-fi included) -- to see your own review here, read the book review guidelines, then visit the submission page. If you'd like to see what books we have available from our review library please let us know.
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

Book Review: Data and Goliath

Comments Filter:
  • Reality is bruce... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday March 09, 2015 @02:40PM (#49217179)

    ... and most people are going to find out too late what the NSA spying is really about.

    Most have no clue what's really going on in the world... the elites are afraid of political awakening (aka global revolt). i.e. they fear you stopping voting for politicians and causing social and political change because the democratic system is a sham.

    This (mass surveillance) by the NSA and abuse by law enforcement is just more part and parcel of state suppression of dissent against corporate interests. They're worried that the more people are going to wake up and corporate centers like the US and canada may be among those who also awaken. See this vid with Zbigniew Brzezinski, former United States National Security Advisor. []

    Brezinski at a press conference []

    The real news: [] [] [] []

    Look at the following graphs: [] []

    And then...

    WIKILEAKS: U.S. Fought To Lower Minimum Wage In Haiti So Hanes And Levis Would Stay Cheap [] []

    Free markets? []

    Free trade? [] []

    "We now live in two Americas. One—now the minority—functions in a print-based, literate world that can cope with complexity and can separate illusion from truth. The other—the majority—is retreating from a reality-based world into one of false certainty and magic. To this majority—which crosses social class lines, though the poor are overwhelmingly affected—presidential debate and political rhetoric is pitched at a sixth-grade reading level. In this “other America,” serious film and theater, as well as newspapers and books, are being pushed to the margins of society.

    In the tradition of Christopher Lasch’s The Culture of Narcissism and Neil Postman’s Amusing Ourselves to Death, Pulitzer Prize-winner Chris Hedges navigates this culture—attending WWF contests, the Adult Video News Awards in Las Vegas, and Ivy League graduation ceremonies—to expose an age of terrifying decline and heightened self-delusion."

    Important history: [] []

    • I'm curious about what time in American history that the "other America" ever attended serious film and theater. It's a screamer. Who ever does that? The only people who attend "serious film and theater" are foo-foo coastal leftists.

      I also love the Otherizing in progress. In fact, the real America is real, and YOUR side is The Other. Don't like it? There are plenty of other countries out there to choose from. We live in a borderless world.

      • I think the point about "serious film and theater" means film and theater which addresses the human condition or speaks truth to power.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    yes - Bruce is 10000% right.
    yes - this book is really good.

    but...the NSA has already opened pandora's box. the genie is out and their ain't no way it will be closing any time soon.

    the NSA owns congress. Enough said.

  • Small data (Score:4, Interesting)

    by dargaud ( 518470 ) <slashdot2@gdarga[ ]net ['ud.' in gap]> on Monday March 09, 2015 @03:24PM (#49217675) Homepage
    Let me Godwin that discussion fast... Just remember that Hitler, with a few Hollerith machines [], which aren't even considered computers by any definitions of the term, managed to classify, sort and exterminate millions of people, just imagine what a malevolent dictatorship could bring today. Think we are past that ? Well, it looks like the Front National, France's extremist and racist party, is posed to win the next election due to the usual two main parties being full of shit and full of themselves (not sure there's a difference there).

    Now the million dollar question is: do you really want to give the keys to (in this case, french equivalent to) the NSA to such a party, even if democratically elected ?!? Really ? The best solution is to never build a mass listening aparatus in the first place. Pass laws making it impossible. Buid an anti-NSA whose life work is to search, target, disrupt or destroy by whatever means any mass spying operations.
    • And small scope (Score:4, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Brave Guy ( 457657 ) on Monday March 09, 2015 @04:30PM (#49218547)

      One of the things that fascinates me about this debate -- in a sickening, slow-motion train-wreck-watching kind of way -- is how inherently biased the participants often seem to be.

      For example, try rereading just the summary and comments on this page and counting how many references are specifically to US/American citizens. Does no-one who is not a US citizen deserve to be treated with respect, considered innocent until proven guilty, and protected by law against infringements of their basic rights and freedoms? Does no-one who is a US citizen ever do anything bad? Does anyone really think the passport someone carries -- basically an accident of birth -- is the most reliable indicator of future intentions?

      Usually at this point someone pipes up with how the NSA is there to protect US interests, but that argument holds little water. If the NSA is undermining communication security to monitor others then it is undermining security for US citizens as well. And the same for GCHQ here in the UK, and every other state surveillance apparatus. So by the national interest argument, at best every state surveillance organisation in the world except possibly your own is a threat to your basic freedoms and every other nation in the world is acting like a hostile power in some sort of information-age Cold War.

      This is clearly an absurd default position. International partnerships and friendships can be mutually beneficial in numerous ways, and we should be working together to develop those relationships for the good of everyone in our increasingly global society. And yet, the current obsession with intrusive surveillance and security theatre is threatening many of those potential benefits in all kinds of subtle ways, and the only news stories about international diplomacy in recent years seem to be about shady back-room deals that further the interests of state power and/or big business, often conveniently circumventing the normal safeguards provided by national laws in the process.

      I don't think this position is sustainable, but my worry is that it will eventually fail not because we decided like civilised people that this kind of behaviour is unhealthy and unacceptable, but because it created so much of a them-and-us divide between normal people and powerful organisations like governments and big businesses that we reached a point of widespread civil disobedience or even actual civil war, causing catastrophically vast damage to society for at least a generation and out of all proportion to any threat these measures ever protected against.

    • by Threni ( 635302 )

      >Well, it looks like the Front National, France's extremist and racist party, is posed to win the next
      >election due to the usual two main parties being full of shit and full of themselves (not sure there's
      >a difference there).

      It's not hurting their chances that 12 civilians were murdered by religious fanatics, in an environment where there are many members of the same religion who surfed up in the '50s to work in factories which are long since closed, leading to high unemployment, and that as many

    • I love how radical leftists are sober, sane people that we really need to sit down and listen to, while their counterparts on the right are crazy nutbags and it's better to overthrow democracy than allow them to take any kind of real political power. Democracy does not mean "my side wins 100% of the time".
  • by RoccamOccam ( 953524 ) on Monday March 09, 2015 @03:35PM (#49217847)

    Bruce needs to try to get on Michael Medved's Radio Talk Show.

    Medved is a conservative talk-show host and he has voiced the "if you don't have anything to hide ..." opinion on the air. However, he is particularly open to opposing opinions and he is very polite to his guests. He often has authors on his show (particularly if they have viewpoints that differ from his).

    This would be good publicity for the book, informative for the listeners, and I'd be surprised if Medved wouldn't welcome Bruce to his show.

    • by Anonymous Coward


      However, I have been sitting here thinking about this. The need for privacy. Why do we *need* privacy?

      Usually several reasons.
      1) we want to hide something from someone else (doing something to them they would not like, adultery, stealing something of theirs, etc )
      2) we do not want to be judged by someone else (doing something society finds objectionable/subversive, homosexuality, drugs, smoking, drinking, etc)
      3) we are doing something we should not be doing (stealing some money, vandalism, spying,

      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by Anonymous Coward

        Privacy is usually needed only because of judgment of others. Either rightly or wrongly. We are trying to avoid the judgment of others.

        Perhaps we are attacking the problems in the wrong ways? Maybe the needs for privacy is something we should look into?

        The judgements of others are extremely dangerous, are unstable and fickle, and are riddled with extreme prejudice and half-assed truisms. Never before has there been such potential for every single behavior to be recorded and subjected to groupthink scrutiny. It follows that never has there been a greater need to exist as a private individual.

  • by dcollins117 ( 1267462 ) on Monday March 09, 2015 @04:04PM (#49218269)

    Schneier straight-out says that ubiquitous surveillance and data minding [sic] are not suited for finding dedicated criminals or terrorists. The US is wasting billions on these programs and not getting the security they have been promised.

    Combing through mass surveillance data to identify potential terrorists is like looking for a needle in a haystack, where the government has created both the needle and the haystack.

    That's market making. Create a problem, then sell the solution.

  • by al0ha ( 1262684 ) on Monday March 09, 2015 @04:56PM (#49218813) Journal
    I am so happy that an expert and leading thinker in practical Information Security practice as well as philosophy is keeping this torch alive among the utter and dismaying apathy of the general public at large. I for one have been so personally beaten down by the powers that be after spending years initially trumpeting warnings considering this issue, and the rush to get all data into the cloud damn the future consequences, that I am personally too weary to continue to resist the tide running against sound privacy logic, all in the name of saving a few dollars in the short term.

    Bruce Schneier is my hero!
  • by Anonymous Coward

    "...against President Obama and the NSA for their wholesale spying on innocent Americans and violations of myriad laws..."

    All this NSA spying on Americans started during Bush W Bush's reign. It has been pretty well documented. So put the blame where it should begin.
    Obama gets the blame for not shutting down the program(s).

    • Christ, it doesn't matter. Obama, Bush, same damn thing. It's a false dichotomy intended to mask the fact that there is a single power structure at play (Government, Inc.).

The party adjourned to a hot tub, yes. Fully clothed, I might add. -- IBM employee, testifying in California State Supreme Court