Book Review: The Post-Snowden Era – Mass Surveillance and Privacy in New Zealand, by Kathleen M. Kuehn

Available now in bookshops nationwide.

cv_the_post-snowden_era.jpgBWB texts are fantastic short books written by specialists in the field. They provide good background to topical events, and it is particularly pleasurable to read books about New Zealand or written by New Zealand authors. As short books (and accordingly priced) they are accessible and very consumable. The Post-Snowden Era provides a brilliant hit of ethics, privacy and surveillance all in one tidy book.

Kathleen Kuehn is a lecturer in media studies with an interest in surveillance. She notes that we are told that the price of security is surveillance, but it isn’t quite the full story. Surveillance in the traditional sense has changed a lot, and with public/ private partnerships strongly in force, we have become complicit in our monitoring. With much of our ability to be monitored in the hands of commercial interests, traditional methods of controlling unwanted behaviour have been replaced by the free market.

Prior to reading this book I always thought that electronic surveillance sought to read emails or listen in to phone calls. It does that, but it is also the patterns created by our activities online – the combination of our shopping habits, social media activities and online searches that produce metadata. The metadata – the times we are online, who we call frequently or how we purchase items can be more revealing than the information in our emails. With most adults active digital users, each swipe of the Fly Buys Card, distances logged on Fit Bits and the location of our tweets enable analysts a comprehensive picture of our lives.

I really appreciated the opportunity to understand modern surveillance and Kathleen Kuehn has produced a very well written overview. I was quite startled by the extent of surveillance and feel much better informed on the issues raised as a result. The book is also well referenced and this provides an opportunity to dig deeper on the subject. A fascinating read.

Reviewed by Emma Rutherford

The Post-Snowden Era – Mass Surveillance and Privacy in New Zealand
by Kathleen M. Kuehn
Published by Bridget Williams Books
ISBN 9780908321070

Book Review: Like Nobody’s Watching, by L J Ritchie

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LJ Ritchie is a graduate of the Whitireia Polytechnic Creative Writing Course and this is his first novel, about surveillance and how easy it is, even when seeking to do good, to become seduced by the power that comes from access to unauthorised information.

The novel is set in a not-so- thinly-disguised Wellington secondary school and revolves around a group of good friends who find that there is a great deal of bullying going on which is caught on camera. However, it seems also that no-one is bothering to check the camera footage regularly, so some fairly unpleasant acts do not get their come-uppance.(Side note – having worked in a school with surveillance cameras, I know just how time-consuming it is to check footage, so its unsurprising to me that bad behaviour goes unnoticed…).

But back to the novel. Of the group, naturally one is an expert hacker and is able to get into the school system undetected by using the password of a former teacher. (Next side note – many teachers have typed their password into a screen visible by students at one time or another. Mostly they report that and change the password. Not in this case, which helps the story!)

The plan is to let the bullies know that they are observed, and thereby potentially end the bullying behaviours , but eventually – and inevitably – the plan goes wrong the roles are reversed.

The story is quite well put together, although I must say I don’t particularly enjoy the present-tense writing style. However it does give a sense of urgency and drives the book along. The characters are pretty well-drawn, if a little stereotypical. We have our geek, with a conscience; pretty and talented girl who turns out to be not as pretty in her behaviour; one of the group with an unspoken crush on the geek…. However, there is enough variety to keep you interested.

Overall, I think it’s an okay, if undemanding,  first novel and should appeal to younger teenaged readers.

Reviewed by Sue Esterman

Like Nobody’s Watching
by L J Ritchie
Escalator Press
ISBN 9780994137203