‘Dragnet Nation’ Book Explores How Mass Surveillance Rules

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Dragnet Nation bookInvestigative reporter Julia Angwin, author of Dragnet Nation: A Quest for Privacy, Security and Freedom in a World of Relentless Surveillance, knows a lot about Internet snooping.

Angwin, a Pulitzer Prize winner and former business and technology writer at The Wall Street Journal, oversaw a pioneering series of WSJ articles in 2010 called “What They Know” that exposed many of the questionable activities that erode privacy. At the time, PRIVATE WiFi CEO Kent Lawson praised the series and the team behind it. Lawson noted he was “very impressed that the WSJ would undertake a project like this, which includes several business practices that many would call intrusive. They definitely get my ‘good guy’ award.”

Now, four years later, we as a society have sadly almost come to expect an extreme amount of online tracking. But how much is too much? And is there a way around it?

A Wakeup Call?

Her book certainly educates those with little awareness of the pervasiveness of digital surveillance. She states that her book is “a revelatory and unsettling look at how the government, private companies, and even criminals use technology to indiscriminately sweep up vast amounts of our personal data.”

So how do you solve this problem? Angwin alleges that the tradeoff to our “always online” society is that most Americans are giving up inherent freedoms. As such, Angwin conducts a series of experiments to try to protect herself, ranging from quitting Google to carrying a “burner” phone, showing how difficult it is for an average citizen to resist the dragnets’ reach.

She tries to use an alias with a new credit card; quits the professional networking site LinkedIn; encrypts her email; and disables “cookies” to limit online tracking.

Her book certainly raises a lot of good questions. For example, does our personal information belong to us or the corporations that collect it? Instead of being forced to adhere to these data-collection rules in order to use a popular product, shouldn’t we insist that companies give us the option to allow or deny them permission to track and store our personal information? What happens if hackers get ahold of this information?

Anne-Marie Slaughter, the president and CEO of New America, reviewed the book and agreed that many of us would simply prefer not to know how much others know about us but “Angwin opens a door onto that dark world in a way that both raises a new set of public issues and canvasses a range of solutions. We can reclaim our privacy while still enjoying the benefits of many types of surveillance – but only if we take our heads out of the sand and read this book.”

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Elaine Rigoli

Elaine Rigoli is PRIVATE WiFi’s manager of digital content strategy.