Ben Franklin's Web Site

0000-00-00 00:00:00 by Robert Ellis Smith
Ben Franklin's Web Site by Robert Ellis Smith

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Author
Robert Ellis Smith
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Book review

This acclaimed book explores the hidden niches of American history to discover the tug between Americans' yearning for privacy and their insatiable curiosity. The book describes Puritan monitoring in Colonial New England, then shows how the attitudes of the founders placed the concept of privacy in the Constitution. This panoramic view continues with the coming of tabloid journalism in the Nineteenth Century, and the reaction to it in the form of a new right - the right to privacy. The book includes histories of wiretapping, of credit reporting, of sexual practices, of Social Security numbers and ID cards, of modern principles of privacy protection, and of the coming of the Internet and the new challenges to personal privacy it has brought.

"Robert Ellis Smith's expose of privacy invasion will be one of the sleeper best-selling books..." wrote columnist William Safire in The New York Times, December 1999. "His numerous books are required reading for anyone concerned about the ongoing threats," said Simson Garfinkel in Database Nation, 2000.

Here's a chapter-by-chapter description: "Watchfulness" describes church monitoring in the Colonial period. "Serenity" shows the craving for solitude by our founders, which shaped the rights they enshrined in the Constitution. "Mistrust" recounts early battles over confidentiality in the Post Office, the Census, and Western Union. "Space" describes the quest for privacy in living arrangements (including the first moves to suburbia after the Civil War) and the lack of privacy on Southern plantations. "Curiosity" traces the epic development of sensational journalism in the Nineteenth Century. "Brandeis" chronicles how Louis Brandeis reacted to gossip journalism and other new technology by "inventing" a legal right to privacy. "Wiretaps" is the story of electronic surveillance from the invention of the telephone to the 1970s.

"Sex" traces changing attitudes towards sexual privacy over two centuries, and provides a chronicle of a Clintonesque sex scandal that changed attitudes forever after the 1880s. "Torts" describes court battles that eventually provided great latitude for gossip journalism. "The Constitution" is a remarkable new look at the very narrow decisions of the Supreme Court that shaped the very narrow Constitutional protections for privacy in the Twenty-First Century.

"Numbers" tells for the first time where Social Security numbers came from and how they are used now, and describes subtle political efforts to create a universal identity number in the U.S. "Databanks" provides histories of credit reporting, database marketing, and government record-keeping from the 1950s to the present. "Cyberspace" is a look back at the overnight development of the World Wide Web and its impact on personal privacy.

Lastly, the epilogue entitled "Ben Franklin's Web Site" offers specific tips for protecting your privacy. It is modern guidance that Ben Franklin himself would have provided on his Web site.


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