[Paleopsych] NYTDBR: 'No Place to Hide': Nonstop Scrutiny, as Orwell Foresaw

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'No Place to Hide': Nonstop Scrutiny, as Orwell Foresaw 
New York Times Daily Book Review, 5.1.25

By Robert O'Harrow Jr.
348 pages. Free Press. $26.

Picture "Minority Report" combined with Orwell's "1984" and
Francis Ford Coppola's "Conversation": in an effort to
prevent future crimes and predict what certain individuals
are likely to do, the government has begun working with
high-tech titans to keep tabs on the populace.

One company has come up with a digital identity system that
has tagged every adult American with a unique code. Another
company is intent on gaining control of all records -
including state and local files, financial information,
employee dossiers, DNA data and criminal background checks
- that define our identity. In addition to iris scanners,
voice analyzers and fingerprint readers, there now exist
face recognition machines and cameras that can identify an
individual by how he or she walks. One government group is
working on infrared detectors that could register heat
signals around people's eyes, indicating an autonomic
"fight or flight" response; another federal agency has
floated a proposal to assess risk by examining airline
passengers' brain waves with "noninvasive neuro-electric

This surveillance state is not a futuristic place conjured
in a Philip K. Dick novel or "Matrix"-esque sci-fi
thriller. It is post-9/11 America, as described in Robert
O'Harrow Jr.'s unnerving new book, "No Place to Hide" - an
America where citizens' "right to be let alone," as Justice
Louis Brandeis of the Supreme Court once put it, is
increasingly imperiled, where more and more components of
our daily lives are routinely monitored, recorded and

These concerns, of course, are hardly new. Way back in
1964, in "The Naked Society," Vance Packard warned about
encroachments on civil liberties and the growing threat to
privacy posed by new electronic devices, and in 1971, in
"The Assault on Privacy," Arthur R. Miller warned that
advances in information technologies had given birth to "a
new social virus - 'data-mania.' " The digital revolution
of the 1990's, however, exponentially amplified these
trends by enabling retailers, marketers and financial
institutions to gather and store vast amounts of
information about current and potential customers. And as
Mr. O'Harrow notes, the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11,
2001, "reignited and reshaped a smoldering debate over the
proper use of government power to peer into the lives of
ordinary people."

Some of the material in "No Place to Hide" is familiar from
news coverage (most notably, the author's own articles
about privacy and technology for The Washington Post), from
a recent ABC News special (made in conjunction with Mr.
O'Harrow's reporting) and from recent books like Jeffrey
Rosen's "Naked Crowd: Reclaiming Security and Freedom in an
Anxious Age" and Christian Parenti's "Soft Cage:
Surveillance in America From Slavery to the War on Terror."

Still, Mr. O'Harrow provides in these pages an
authoritative and vivid account of the emergence of a
"security-industrial complex" and the far-reaching
consequences for ordinary Americans, who must cope not only
with the uneasy sense of being watched (leading, defenders
of civil liberties have argued, to a stifling of debate and
dissent) but also with the very palpable dangers of having
personal information (and in some cases, inaccurate
information) passed from one outfit to another.

Mr. O'Harrow also charts many consumers' willingness to
trade a measure of privacy for convenience (think of the
personal information happily dispensed to TiVo machines and
Amazon.com in exchange for efficient service and helpful
suggestions), freedom for security. He reviews the
gargantuan data-gathering and data-mining operations
already carried out by companies like Acxiom, ChoicePoint
and LexisNexis. And he shows how their methods are being
co-opted by the government.

The Privacy Act of 1974, enacted in the wake of revelations
about covert domestic spying by the F.B.I., the Army and
other agencies, gave individuals new rights to know and to
correct information that the government was collecting
about them, but the government's current predilection for
outsourcing data-gathering to private companies has changed
the rules of the game.

As Mr. O'Harrow notes: "Among other things, the law
restricted the government from building databases of
dossiers unless the information about individuals was
directly relevant to an agency's mission. Of course, that's
precisely what ChoicePoint, LexisNexis and other services
do for the government. By outsourcing the collection of
records, the government doesn't have to ensure the data is
accurate, or have any provisions to correct it in the same
way it would under the Privacy Act. There are no limits on
how the information can be interpreted, all this at a time
when law enforcement, domestic intelligence and foreign
intelligence are becoming more interlinked."

Privacy and civil liberties advocates have put the brakes
on some government projects, like the Total Information
Awareness initiative promoted by John Poindexter, the
former vice admiral (of Iran-contra notoriety), and a
surveillance engine known (half jokingly) as the Matrix
(for the Multistate Anti-Terrorism Information Exchange)
that would combine criminal and commercial records in one
blindingly fast system. Yet Mr. O'Harrow points out: "The
drive for more monitoring, data collection, and analysis is
relentless and entrepreneurial. Where one effort ends,
another begins, often with the same technology and aims.
Total Information Awareness may be gone, but it's not
forgotten. Other kinds of Matrix systems are already in the

Even now, one mini-me version of Big Brother or another is
monitoring Americans' daily lives, from the computer
"cookies" that map our peregrinations around the Net, to
the MetroCards, E-ZPasses and car-installed Global
Positioning System devices that track our travels, to the
security cameras that eyeball us at banks and stores. Mr.
O'Harrow writes that RFID (radio frequency identification)
tags will be attached soon to credit cards, bank passbooks
and "anything else that will enable businesses to
automatically 'know you' when you arrive," and that several
organizations "are working on a standard that would enable
every manufactured item in the world to be given a unique
ID, at least theoretically."

"Before long," he adds, "our phones, laptop computers, Palm
Pilots, watches, pagers and much more will play parts in
the most efficient surveillance network ever made. Forget
dropping a coin into a parking meter or using a pay phone
discreetly on the street. Those days are slipping by. The
most simple, anonymous transactions are now becoming
datapoints on the vast and growing matrix of each of our

It is an alarming vision of the future uncannily
reminiscent of the world imagined by Orwell in "1984": a
world where "you had to live - did live, from habit that
became instinct - in the assumption that every sound you
made was overheard, and, except in darkness, every movement

It just arrived some two decades later than Orwell


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