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REVIEW: "Ben Franklin's Web Site", Robert Ellis Smith

 
 
Rob Slade, doting grandpa of Ryan and Trevor
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      01-02-2004
BKBNFRWS.RVW 20031013

"Ben Franklin's Web Site", Robert Ellis Smith, 2000, 0-930072-14-6,
U$24.50/C$32.25
%A Robert Ellis Smith http://www.velocityreviews.com/forums/(E-Mail Removed)
%C P. O. Box 28577, Providence, RI 02908
%D 2000
%G 0-930072-14-6
%I Privacy Journal
%O U$24.50/C$32.25 401-274-7861 (E-Mail Removed)
%O http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/AS...bsladesinterne
http://www.amazon.co.uk/exec/obidos/...bsladesinte-21
%O http://www.amazon.ca/exec/obidos/ASI...bsladesin03-20
%P 407 p.
%T "Ben Franklin's Web Site"

In the introduction, Smith notes that Americans are both (and
simultaneously) interested in protecting their privacy, and very
curious about others. This work is a social history of American
thought and feelings about privacy. The chapters are not numbered,
but named. There is an attempt to assign date ranges to periods of
events and opinion, but this effort is pretty much exhausted by the
time the book ends.

"Watchfulness," from the late seventeenth to the early eighteenth
century, notes an age of church based communities and close living.
Fear of the government registration is suggested to be primarily based
on anxiety about the fact that a low population (or other indicator of
lack of wealth) would reflect badly on the locale (or locals).
"Serenity" links geographic isolation with privacy, but mostly
concentrates on early enumeration operations. The post office, more
about the census, and the beginnings of information technology with
Hollerith and Morse is in a chapter called "Mistrust." "Space"
outlines the degradations of slavery, factories, and workhouses.
"Curiosity" looks at gossip and the popular press.

A chapter called "Brandeis" doesn't talk about him or his essay (with
Warren in the Harvard Law Review) as much as the intellectual
environment and subsequent debate. Another reviews decisions and
government actions in regard to different types of surveillance. It
is difficult to say what a chapter called "Sex" has to do with
privacy, and it reuses a lot of material from "Serenity," "Curiosity,"
and "Brandeis." "Torts" examines various lawsuits related to invasion
of privacy. Politicking on the Supreme Court in cases possibly
related to privacy populates a chapter called "Constitution."
"Numbers," unlike "Census," discusses the improper use of the Social
Security Number, as well as the concept of a national identity card.
Credit reporting agencies are examined in "Databanks." "Cyberspace"
touches on a number of Internet related topics. "Ben Franklin's Web
Site" attempts to guess what Franklin's "Poor Richard's Almanac" would
say about privacy, in pithy aphorisms: a kind of Poor Robert's list of
privacy protecting guidelines.

Smith's book is certainly an entertaining read, and does provide the
occasional lost nugget of significant information on the development
of thought in regard to privacy. It is, however, difficult to say how
useful the work is for practical endeavours in pursuit of the
protection of privacy, or development of current privacy policy.

copyright Robert M. Slade, 2003 BKBNFRWS.RVW 20031013

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