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"The Transparent Society:" Ten Years Later

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Contents

Panel Summary

This year marks the 10th anniversary of the publication of David Brin's controversial book, "The Transparent Society". The book argues that in the face of the explosion of sensors, cheap storage, and cheap data processing we should adopt strategies of vision over concealment. A world in which not just transactional information, but essentially all information about us will be collected, stored, and sorted is, Brin says, inevitable. The only issue left to be decided is who will have access to this information; he argues that freedom, and even some privacy, are more likely to flourish if everybody - not just elites - has access to this flood of data.

The book remains controversial and much-talked-about. The panel will explore how Brin's claims hold up ten years later and whether (or how far) we're on the road to a Transparent Society.

Transparent Society Panelist Statements

David Brin's Statement

Brad Delong's Statement

Danny Weitzner's Statement

Michael Froomkin's Introductory Slides


Other Useful Readings

Brin's Transparent Society Page

Bruce Schneier's critique of The Transparent Society

David Brin's reply



Citations to 'The Transparent Society' (from the Westlaw Database)

Detailed Description

This year marks the 10th anniversary of the publication of David Brin's controversial book, "The Transparent Society". The book argues that in the face of the explosion of sensors, cheap storage, and cheap data processing we should adopt strategies of vision over concealment. A world in which not just transactional information, but essentially all information about us will be collected, stored, and sorted is, Brin says, inevitable. The only issue left to be decided is who will have access to this information; he argues that freedom, and even some privacy, are more likely to flourish if everybody - not just elites - has access to this flood of data.

Brin proposes a stark choice: either the information will be "secret" and "private"--in which case only governments, always potentially repressive, will have access. Or, the information will be "open" and "public" and we will all be transparent to each other. Given this choice, Brin argues, better to be naked to each other than to empower a few with unique access to information about the many. The attempt to protect privacy as we know it carries too great a risk, as it leads if not inevitably than at least all too easily to a world of enormous information-driven tyranny in which the powers -- primarily governments -- with access to our 'private' information will abuse it. In contrast, a high-transparency world with very little privacy is one in which citizens have tools that allow them to monitor their governments.

Brin proposed a paradox which infuriated a good segment of the privacy community. It is normally an article of faith for privacy advocates that privacy empowers, and the removal of privacy is at least disempowering and at worst oppressive. Brin counters that privacy advocates have it exactly backwards: trying to maintain traditional ideas of information privacy in the face of technological changes he sees as (now) inevitable is what will disempower and perhaps oppress; only a program of radical information openness, nakedness even, stands a chance of leveling a playing field on which information is truly power.

The reception of "The Transparent Society" reflected the audacity of its claims. Some dismissed it; some attacked it; a few embraced it. What is striking, however, is that the ideas have had staying power: the book remains in print, it is regularly footnoted, and it comes up in discussion. Right or wrong, "The Transparent Society" has become more than a polar case trotted out as a good or bad example, but an as-yet unproved but also un-falsified challenge to how we think about privacy -- one that demands continuing reflection (or, some would say, refutation).

The tenth anniversary of publication is an appropriate time to do that reflection at CFP.

The Panelists

David Brin

(remote participation)

David Brin is the author of “The Transparent Society,” the inspiration for this panel.

His bestselling novels, such as EARTH and KILN PEOPLE, have been translated into more than 20 languages. THE POSTMAN was loosely KevinCostnerized in 1998. A scientist and futurist, Brin speaks and consults about over-the-horizon social and technological trends. His television appearances include "Life After People," "The Universe," and "the Architechs” and he serves on advisory panels dealing with SETI, nanotechnology and national defense. His 1998 non-fiction book - "The Transparent Society: Will Technology Make Us Choose Between Freedom and Privacy?" - deals with issues of openness, security and liberty in the new wired-age. It won the 2000 Freedom of Speech Award of the American Library Association and a prize from the McGannon Foundation for public service in communications.

Alan Davidson

Alan is the head of Google’s Washington, DC, government affairs office. Previously he was Associate Director of the Center for Democracy & Technology. Alan is a frequent speaker and presence in national privacy debates, and a frequent CFP participant.

J. Bradford DeLong

Professor of Economics, University of California at Berkely

In addition to his work as a macro and economic historian, Brad has written extensively about the economics of information and the Internet. He runs a very popular economics and culture blog, “Grasping Reality with Both Hands: Economist Brad DeLong’s Fair, Balanced, and Reality-Based Semi-Daily Journal” at http://delong.typepad.com/. Brad served as Deputy Assistant Secretary for Economic Policy in the Clinton administration, 1993-95. He is also a founder-member of the Ancient, Hermetic, and Occult Order of the Shrill.

A. Michael Froomkin

(Moderator)

Professor of Law, University of Miami

Michael has been writing about privacy, encryption, and anonymity for almost fifteen years. His writings include “The Death of Privacy?” 2 Stan L. Rev. 1461 (2000). He is a founder-editor of ICANNWatch, and serves on the Editorial Board of Information, Communication & Society and of I/S: A Journal of Law and Policy for the Information Society. He is on the Advisory Boards of several organizations including the Electronic Freedom Foundation and BNA Electronic Information Policy & Law Report. He is a member of the Royal Institute of International Affairs in London. He is also active in several technology related projects in the greater Miami area.

Stephanie Perrin

Stephanie is the Acting Director General of Risk Management, Integrity Branch, Service Canada. She is the former Director of Research and Policy at the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada, and was prior to this a consultant in privacy and information policy issues, president of her own company Digital Discretion Inc., and a Senior Fellow at the Electronic Privacy Information Centre in Washington.

She is the former Chief Privacy Officer of Zero-Knowledge, and has been active in a number of CPO associations, working with those responsible for implementing privacy in their organizations. Formerly the Director of Privacy Policy for Industry Canada’s Electronic Commerce Task Force, she led the legislative initiative at Industry Canada that resulted in the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act, privacy legislation that came into force in 2001 and has set the standard for private sector compliance. She is the principal author of a text on the Act, published by Irwin Law.

Danny Weitzner

Danny is a Member of the Technology Media and Telecommunications policy committee advising the Obama '08 Campaign and is Principal Research Scientist, MIT Computer Scientist and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory.

Danny has graciously agreed to step in for Zephyr, who will be unable to attend.

===Zephyr Teachout===

Visiting Asst. Prof. of Law, Duke University

Zephyr is one of the leading practitioners and theoreticians of online political organizing. She directed Internet organizing for Howard Dean’s 2004 presidential campaign.

Zephyr is noted for advocating the Internet as a tool for creating local offline groups. publications include “Mousepads, Shoeleather and Hope: Lessons from the Howard Dean Campaign for the Future of Internet Politics”(Editor) (forthcoming August 2007, Paradigm Publishers); “How Politicians can use Distributive Networks” (New Assignment, November 2006); “Youtube? It’s so Yesterday,” (with Tim Wu) (Washington Post, November 2006), and “Powering Up Internet Campaigns,” book chapter in Lets Get This Party Started (Rowan and Littlefield, 2005.) She is currently writing about the meaning of corruption in the American constitutional tradition.