REVIEW - Privacy on the Line - The Politics of Wiretapping and Encryption


Privacy on the Line

The Politics of Wiretapping and Encryption


Whitfield Diffie, Susan Eva Landau



MIT Press (1999)




Francis Glassborow


February 2000



Issues of privacy are amongst the hottest topics of the 1990's and there is every reason to believe that they will continue well into the next century. One of the problems is that we assume that we have a degree of privacy in our everyday lives that is probably not justified by the facts. In many (but by no means all) countries a degree of privacy is enshrined in law. Reading mail in transit, bugging peoples telephones etc. is strictly constrained in law but probably to a smaller extent than we like to think. We like to think that our governments invasion of our privacy is strongly restricted. In fact they regularly invade our privacy, and we frequently actively support such invasions (think how willing many people support CCTV, granted this is in public places, but it still invades our privacy).

In this book the authors not only explore the political and legal aspects of electronic privacy but also consider the social implications. Though the book is written from the perspective of the USA much of it is relevant elsewhere.

Governments have always invaded the privacy of their citizens but in the past these invasions have been constrained by logistics. It is simply not possible to covertly read every citizen's mail.

Collating data from tax returns, bank accounts etc. has only been possible on a small scale. What has protected the privacy of most has been the sheer impossibility of comprehensive data collation for an entire population. This is no longer the case.

We all have opinions (not always consistent) on the subject matter of this book. This book will help you base those opinions on a little substance including the history of how we got where we are today. If the subject interests you, you will find this book a thoughtful and readable presentation.

Book cover image courtesy of Open Library.

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