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Book review: Little Brother

I have just finished reading Little Brother by Cory Doctorow. This book presents the story of a typical but tech savvy teenager who falls victim to harassment by the Department of Homeland Security and the police state, where every citizen is constantly tracked and monitored as a potential terrorist. The story is fictitious, of course, but those who follow the reaction of some nations to the terrorism threat and the ever increasing amplitude and sophistication of wholesale surveillance, cannot miss that while the story is factually fictitious, it is not at all implausible.

I like Cory Doctorow. I like to read most of what he writes, and “Little Brother” is no exception. It is a light and fun book to read, but more importantly, it is a book that conveys a strong message. It demonstrates where we might be heading by allowing authorities to possess excessive uncontrolled powers, and how the fight against terrorism can take us into dark alleys if it is not balanced properly against basic rights that democracy is all about preserving.

There is one other strong benefit for this book. It is an effective and fun way for the reader to learn a lot about privacy enhancing technologies. While reading the fun story, the reader will also learn a lot about technologies of encryption, network privacy, TOR, Bayes, Linux distros, and much more. While the story is fictitious, most technologies that are described in this book are not.

“Little Brother” is an essay designed to convey a message in the most interesting and lightweight way, also to people who are not technologists. The story serves this purpose well. However, as a story, it is rather shallow, sometimes even a bit too expected. It often looks like a story wrapping a techno-political discussion, which is probably what it is. I liked it, because I know the point the author is trying to make and I appreciate it, but those who read this story purely for the story of it, might be slightly disappointed.

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