5 Great Novels About Privacy and Security
I’m also trying to compile a more comprehensive list of literary works about privacy and security, and I welcome your suggestions.
Without further ado, my list:
Kafka’s The Trial begins with a man being arrested but not told why. In typical Kafka fashion, the novel begins badly for the protagonist . . . and then it gets worse! A clandestine court system has compiled a dossier about him and officials are making decisions about him, but he is left in the dark. This is akin to how Big Data can operate today. The Trial captures the sense of helplessness, frustration, and powerlessness when large institutions with inscrutable purposes use personal data and deny people the right to participate. I wrote more extensively about how Kafka is an apt metaphor for privacy in our times in a book called The Digital Person about 10 years ago.
Orwell’s classic novel depicts a harrowing totalitarian society where the government (called “Big Brother”), watches its citizens pervasively. A primary surveillance device is the telescreen, a TV that watches people in their homes (known today as the Internet). Orwell’s novel is great for capturing a society suffocated by surveillance; our world is much better because it is a lot more colorful and the NSA doesn’t use rats.
Huxley’s Brave New World presents a much brighter world than Orwell’s 1984, but it is much uglier than it appears on the surface. Although everyone is happy, everyone is manipulated and controlled and lives a shallow mindless existence. People use a drug called soma to maintain their happiness Huxley captures the problems of being manipulated — even when it makes people happy. This is a great book to spark thought about what ethical limits should be placed on behavioral marketing and other uses of data that can shape people’s beliefs, attitudes, and perceptions.
Some might wonder why a book about the trial of a sailor on a ship in the 18th Century is on a list of privacy and security books, but Melville’s Billy Budd is at its core about questioning the sacrifices we make in times of war and crisis. The arguments Captain Vere makes to convince the drumhead court that Billy should be convicted are nearly identical to the ones made after September 11th to justify increased surveillance measures, the sacrifice of privacy and civil liberties, and indefinite detention and torture. Billy Budd raises challenging questions and leaves it to readers to reach their own conclusions. If you’re interested, I wrote about these themes in Billy Budd in an article several years ago.
Heinrich Böll’s short book, The Lost Honor of Katharina Blum, depicts the terrible effects of excessive and distorted media reporting on a person’s life. Katharina spends an evening with a man, whom she later discovers is wanted by the police. This sparks a very aggressive journalist to pry incessantly into her life and print sensationalistic stories that distort the truth. Her life progressively becomes dismantled and destroyed.
Please Help Me Develop a Resource
Paul Schwartz and I recently launched a resource page of non-fiction works about privacy and security on the Privacy + Security Forum website.
We are planning to compile a resource that lists fiction about privacy and security.
I welcome recommendations of works to include on the list. I also would like to include some people’s lists of favorites and their short blurbs like the ones I wrote above. Of course, I will credit those whose blurbs I use.
Please email your lists to me or post below in the comments. Thanks.
Originally posted at my LinkedIn Influencer Blog