August 1998

Trust, Privacy, and Security

Book Review:Technology and Privacy: The New Landscape
Edited by Phil Agre and Marc Rotenberg
MIT Press, 1997
280 pages
$25.00 (US)
ISBN: 0-262-01162-X

Book Review:Internet Besieged, Countering Cyberspace Scofflaws
Edited by Dorothy E. Denning and Peter J. Denning
ACM Press, a Division of the Association for Computing Machinery Inc., 1998
547 pages
ISBN: 0-201-30820-7

Reviewed by Nick Carbone

Taken together, Technology and Privacy: The New Landscape and Internet Besieged: Countering Cyberspace Scofflaws, explore, in their own way, the need for trust. Because networked computers allow both information and communication to be stored and exchanged rapidly, prolifically, and easily, users must trust that information is private and safe:

  • systems administrators must trust users not to divulge recklessly their passwords and system knowledge;
  • e-mail list members must trust one another to use exchanges appropriately;
  • electronic commerce won't work unless sellers and buyers trust the security of the transactions;
  • and people want to believe--to trust--that while online, they can act in some privacy, and won't be snooped, traced, overly-demographed and profiled.
These two books investigate whether exchanges made over computer networks can be private and secure, safe from prying eyes and malicious attacks.

Both collections consider technology as tools for fostering social cohesiveness and order. Technology and Privacy-- does so largely from the point of view of the individual who wants their privacy secured, and Internet Besieged -- does so largely, though not exclusively, from the point of view of those whose responsibility it is to design and assure that when individuals travel online, they can do so in relative safety.

Both books also acknowledge that while technology can go a long way to increase security and privacy, ultimately, public education about the nature of security and privacy online must continue, and policy debates must evolve to keep pace with technological possibilities.

Both books are anthologies. In Technology and Privacy, Agre and Rotenberg offer a collection of essays written primarily for the book. The ten essays are meant to provide a conceptual framework of technology and privacy with an eye toward affecting the needed policy debates on privacy in a digital age. In Internet Besieged, Denning and Denning took a different approach, using some original essays, but also culling through journals, newsletters, congressional testimony, and computer documentation to collect a range of materials on hacking, network security, user ethics, cryptography, and yes, privacy.

For those interested in these issues, both books are good places to start because while each takes a different approach and looks at different aspects of privacy and security, they both succeed because they define their scope, acknowledges their limits, and deliver what they promise.

Nick Carbone begins teaching at Colorado State University in the fall as a member of the English Department and Writing Center Director. In addition to serving as the review editor of Kairos, he is co-author with Eric Crump of Writing Online: A Student's Guide to the Internet and World Wide Web, published by Houghton Mifflin.

Copyright © 1998 by Nick Carbone. All Rights Reserved.

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