by Jacqueline Klosek. Westport, Connecticut: Praeger, 2007. 248pp. Hardcover. $49.95/£27.95. ISBN: 9780275988913.

Reviewed by Gloria C. Cox, Associate Professor of Political Science and Dean, Honors College, University of North Texas. Email: gcox [at]


At the start of THE WAR ON PRIVACY, Jacqueline Klosek reminds her readers of Benjamin Franklin’s well-known comment, “Any society that would give up a little liberty to gain a little security will deserve neither and lose both.” This remark, one of many paraphrases of Franklin’s statement, sets a fitting tone for Klosek’s succinct overview of how the right of privacy has been affected by the attacks of September 11, 2001. Her objective is to “explore how the ongoing global war on terror has led to a global war on privacy” (p.xii).

Klosek is to be commended for attempting to provide an overview that encompasses every region of the world. She highlights common themes while providing more detailed information on two categories of nations: large, powerful states whose stance on issues is always important; and those nations in which something especially notable, either good or bad, has happened to privacy in recent years. The reader is reminded, for example, of China’s use of anti-terrorist legislation as a tool of repression against political dissidents. Tunisia, rarely in the news, is included for the comprehensive privacy policies that make it unique in the Middle East and North Africa. To provide as much information as possible, the author includes many bulleted lists, a practice that admittedly makes for difficult reading at times. Tables in the Appendix summarize much of the data, which is helpful.

As might be expected, Klosek’s discussion of actions taken by the United States is the most detailed and, therefore, the most interesting. Her analysis begins with the fact that the US, unlike the European Union (EU) and Canada, takes a piecemeal approach to privacy protection. As a consequence, the privacy landscape in the US is dotted with laws aimed at privacy protection in specific areas, such as medical records (The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act), financial records (The Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act), and children’s Internet use (The Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act). These and other laws stand in sharp contrast to the integrated privacy protection established by the EU in 1995 through the Data Protection Directive that requires EU member states to conform by enacting their own national laws in keeping with the directive.

Klosek regards the actions of the U.S. government since September, 2001, as nothing less than a war on privacy. Her criticisms cover many bases, including agency efforts to gain access to data to which they had no right before 9/11. Data sharing, once widely frowned upon, is now common, especially between corporations and government agencies. Klosek reserves some of her harshest criticism for one particular [*405] entity, the National Security Agency (NSA), which has been involved in covert domestic surveillance for many years. The NSA’s activities have quickened noticeably since 9/11, as Klosek illustrates with several important examples. One notable instance is the May, 2006, revelation that the NSA was able to get from AT&T, Verizon, and BellSouth, complete calling histories of some 200 million customers (p.39). Other corporations have also handed over personal data, including several airlines which have willingly shared their records. Klosek also discusses several important data mining projects, including Carnivore, CAPPS and CAPP II, TALON, and MATRIX (pp.44-49). She reminds the reader of the many threats to privacy created by data mining, particularly when the work is handed off to private contractors (as most of these projects were), putting the data at even greater risk.

However, it is the USA PATRIOT Act for which the author reserves her greatest criticism, noting (as many other critics have) the sweeping changes and broad coverage of the law. Not only did this legislation authorize many practices that in and of themselves put citizen privacy in jeopardy, but the PATRIOT Act also amends provisions of numerous other laws, always to the detriment of citizen rights. Of the PATRIOT Act Klosek writes, “The text of the USA PATRIOT Act exceeds 100 pages, making it the longest piece of emergency legislation passed in the shortest period, in all U.S. history” (p.xii).

In accord with the author’s purpose, each chapter provides an overview of a different area of the world. While the United States gets two chapters, only one is devoted to Europe and another chapter attempts to cover Australia, New Zealand, and Asia. Clearly, the book cannot offer an in-depth analysis of any nation, as it attempts to take a global look at the issue in just 158 pages of actual text. Certainly, it is a drawback that, within chapters, some nations are covered in a single paragraph, while others are not even mentioned. Japan gets just one paragraph, for example, although China and Russia get slightly more coverage. However, even with small amounts of information on each region and selected nations, the cumulative effect is quite striking.

Several points of considerable importance emerge from THE WAR ON PRIVACY. Actions taken since 9/11 by the US have had global influence in two ways. First, Congressional and Executive actions have served as models worldwide, justifying the actions of nations that wanted to adopt harsh anti-terrorist legislation. Additionally, the US has been a powerful player, urging nations everywhere to adopt anti-terrorist measures. Such laws typically define terrorism so broadly that they can be used against political enemies or insurgent groups, even those with legitimate grievances against their government.

It should be noted that the US has not stood alone in its advocacy of new legislation. The United Nations also contributed by calling on member states to adopt terrorist conventions, again with little concern for human rights. The end result was a worldwide movement [*406] toward legislation that amounted to a war on privacy, according to Klosek. Certainly there is plenty of evidence that such laws have been the rationale for clamping down on political dissidents and opponents. Among the countries engaging in such behavior are China, Uzbekistan, and Russia (p.8). In Russia, for example, President Putin immediately linked the rebel problems in Chechnya with terrorism and Al Qaida.

At the same time, the US has brought pressure to bear on nations with well-developed privacy protection systems, urging them to lessen those protections and grant governments, especially that of the United States, greater access to data. Thus, while the Data Protection Directive of the European Union has helped to spread awareness of privacy issues throughout the world, the author notes, “more than five years after 9/11, all indications suggest that surveillance activity is still increasing, while efforts to protect privacy continue to decline” (p.3). Perhaps some readers remember the controversy that loomed as the US demanded that European air carriers provide lists of their passengers and personal information about them for all flights landing in the US. While there was resistance, the US was able to get the EU to acquiesce to its demands in this key area, along with several others.

A final point documented by Klosek is the proliferation of types and incidents of heretofore unprecedented governmental surveillance of civilians. Around the world, new laws grant government authorities authorization to conduct surveillance in many ways, including interception of telephone and electronic messages, review of financial, credit card, and travel records, and tracking of daily activities of literally billions of people. What may shock some readers is the prevalence of cameras all over the world. Surveillance cameras are in common use in European nations, for example, where, although privacy protection is important, several nations have had to cope with devastating terrorist attacks. (Unfortunately, Klosek provides two figures for the number of surveillance cameras in use for the UK: three million (p.103) or four million (p.111).) Notably, a single city in China – Shanghai – is estimated to have at least 200,000 cameras in place. Transit systems often have the most cameras, as they present large targets of opportunity for terrorists. The UK and Spain have experienced such attacks in recent years, and it was noted around the world that cameras in the London Underground, while not preventing the attacks, helped authorities to identify the perpetrators.

In sum, Klosek notes that the September 11, 2001, attacks and the political aftermath created the impetus for adoption of numerous laws and conventions worldwide, thus diminishing privacy rights in almost every nation. Moreover, these newly ordained practices rarely focus just on terrorist threats, but are widely used to suppress political opposition and free speech, even reporting by journalists. The voices of those wishing to protect privacy, such as human rights groups, are drowned out by the greater numbers who believe they have made a good trade by giving up some of their freedoms for greater security. Taking a [*407] global overview since 2001, only Japan can claim to have expanded privacy rights. Klosek’s title of a “war on privacy” is well-documented.

While THE WAR ON PRIVACY is informative, it seems most useful for the legal professional with an interest in privacy issues rather than students in an academic setting. Bulleted lists of features of various laws and the generous use of acronyms for agencies and laws are common features of the book, making it difficult at times. Additionally, while important concepts are discussed, the book is primarily factual rather than theoretical, which may limit its usefulness for academic purposes. This is a welcome and valuable overview of an important topic.

© Copyright 2007 by the author, Gloria C. Cox.