Whose Life Is It Anyway?
An enterprising reporter tries—and mostly fails—to regain privacy online
A Quest for Privacy, Security, and Freedom in a World of Relentless Surveillance
by Julia Angwin
$28.00 List Price
Let’s imagine you wanted to instant message with someone in a completely secure way. You don’t want the National Security Agency to listen in, and you don’t want a company like Google scooping up and analyzing your words so it can tailor ads to you. How would you do it?
You’d have to follow Julia Angwin’s lead. In Dragnet Nation she spends a year trying to communicate digitally without being snooped upon by these powerful forces. As she discovers, it isn’t easy.
To create private instant messaging, for example, you need to use a great deal of encryption technology to scramble the IMs as they travel between you and your correspondent. To ensure that she can chat in conditions of actual privacy, Angwin finally has to configure three separate pieces of software so they work in concert. It is a task of sufficient complexity that Angwin—who, as a digital-privacy reporter for the Wall Street Journal, is no high-tech neophyte—can only accomplish it with the help of a computer-security researcher at her shoulder, guiding her through each step.
Why is the encryption software so convoluted? Why can’t you simply click on a box somewhere to shield your digital correspondence from prying eyes or consumer-monitoring commerce bots? It turns out that the cumbersome design of encryption safeguards is partially a side effect of their creators’ virtuous intent. Each piece is an open-source work created by volunteer programmers. They’re public spirited and devoted to the cause of privacy, but most of them aren’t being paid for their work. So they struggle to find the time to update their
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