Privacy Tactics, by Scott Germaise ISBN: 0-9744497-0-9

Reviewed by: Howard Carson, October 2004, send e-mail
Published by: TetraMesa Publishing Section, go to the web site
Requires: N/A
MSRP: $24.95

In the ongoing struggle to build some protection around our personal information, we often forget the one thing—the single most obvious solution—that will help protect and preserve the privacy of our personal data: if you don't allow it to escape in the first place, nobody else will have it. Author Scott Germaise has taken a similar approach as the basis for this book. It's a reasonable assertion. The main point of the book seems to be that most people aren't aware of all the circumstances in which they willingly and often inadvertently give out information.

There are a couple of things about Privacy Tactics which tend to set it apart from other security books on the market. First and foremost, Germaise spends quite a bit of time with the actual legal definitions of privacy. To do that, he tapped into a number of authoritative sources and legal opinions (including recent decisions by the U.S. Supreme Court) in order to provide a reasonable amount of perspective for readers. To bracket current events, Germaise also steps back to the classical era of American jurisprudence by researching and quoting Louis D. Brandeis and Samuel D. Warren with respect to their opinions on the so-called right to privacy. That's a step back to 1890 and provides a bit of a revelation with respect to the manner in which current U.S. laws on the subject evolved from august beginnin gs.Readersliving in other countries (including Canada, the UK and parts of Western Europe) may examine their own privacy statutes and find many similarities with the U.S. More important to our understanding of the author's approach, he provides references, including many URLs, which readers can look up as they read Privacy Tactics.

You may feel, after reading the first 37 pages of the book, that there is too much preparation and not enough useful methodology being presented. In fact, we initially thought so and the first draft of this review reflected that opinion. Upon further review, we decided that the groundwork laid by Germaise was critical to effectively understanding why and when we need to implement privacy tactics using the specific methods he describes after the long-ish introductory chapter.

In essence, Privacy Tactics advocates something more than the simple, well-known techniques offered in every magazine and online forum. The book promotes a privacy lifestyle based on an easy-to-acquire, basic knowledge of privacy as a social phenomenon. Mixed in with that approach is a comprehensive list of specific techniques for use at home, online, in public and in the office. Germaise tells us in practical contemporary (and historical) terms why privacy is important, which makes it a heck of a lot easier to understand and get into habits which allow us to exert some effective control over our personal data.

Cons: The U.S. approach to privacy law respecting the rights of individual citizens in a democratic federal republic is presented in the book as a fait accompli; that is to say, the U.S. historical and ongoing approach to working out privacy issues is the only approach presented. However, other countries of note—Japan, Canada, France, the UK, Germany, Denmark and Sweden to name a few—have made greater inroads in many areas of privacy protection for their citizens while still insisting that those same citizens participate in the larger global community with protections in place. The U.S. approach is certainly valid but it is so far from being fully effective that American lawmakers must find a way to remove nationalistic and pro-corporate arrogance from their deliberations and open up to ideas being used successfully by other democratic nations. American citizens also deserve the fastest road to effective, enforceable privacy rights. Unless U.S. lawmakers open up their thinking, and in consideration of the massive economic and financial power wielded by the U.S., the greater global community is going to suffer to some unwarranted degree until such time as the Superpower puts its privacy stake in the ground with respect to unity of purpose with its social and economic partners. One of the most popular methods used these days by spammers is called Social Hacking or Social Engineering, but the book only devotes a few pages to the subject. That's a shame because a few psychology tips would be useful in helping many people resist the urge to click the link in the next cunningly written junk e-mail they receive. On the publishing side of things, we noted quite a few typos and grammatical errors in the book, a sure sign that Tetra Mesa Publishing Section could probably use a couple of good copy editors and proof readers.

Pros: The introductory history lesson on the evolution of personal privacy in the U.S. is tremendously useful and may come as a surprise to many readers—don't skip the introductory sections. The author does a superb job of explaining how disparate databases containing minor details about individuals often come together when those databases are united under one roof by means of multiple business and database acquisitions. Cross-referencing immediately takes place, thereafter providing vastly more complete information about most of the individuals in the new, larger database. The book contains one section dedicated strictly to summaries of all the important privacy acts currently in force in the U.S., plus three additional sections dealing with the Monitoring Act and privacy law in non-computer/Internet segments—well done. Excellent review of all the practically applicable computer and Internet data privacy methods for home and office. Well organized chapters and subject matter. Easy to read 12 point type. Lots of references which direct readers to additional source material on the subject of personal privacy. Highly recommended.

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