Academic journal article Journalism History

Bit, Bytes, and Big Brother: Federal Information Control in the Technological Age

Academic journal article Journalism History

Bit, Bytes, and Big Brother: Federal Information Control in the Technological Age

Article excerpt

Martin, Shannon E. Bit, Bytes, and Big Brother: Federal Information Control in the Technological Age. Westport, Conn.: Praeger Publishers, 1995. 166 pp. $52.95.

Amid all the gee-whiz technobabble and cyberfrenzy about the "information age," some scholars actually manage to avoid confusing information with knowledge. The author of this book is such a scholar. This timely study avoids much of the progressivist hype about the latest information technologies while carefully examining U.S. policy questions behind the historical, legal and ethical perspectives. The author does so with the laudable goal of encouraging "a national dialogue about how the electorate wants the government to work in their [sic] information interests."

The strength of this book lies in its historical analysis of recent information policy debates. The author examines three federal information policies: the Foreign Agents Registration Act, the Computer Security Act of 1987, and the Pentagon Rules on Media Access. She examines how these policies emerged from the political process, and how they shaped the actions of regulators and users of the information in question. The author also shows how the various policies were drafted with confusing definitions, conflicting interests and contradictory goals. Unfortunately, like the hollow federal promises of "freedom of information" that it criticizes, Bits, Bytes and Big Brother promises more than it delivers. The chapter on definitions of information, while full of potential, never moves beyond a rather wooden catalogue of typologies that might have served the purposes of a dissertation but add little to the arguments developed in the rest of the book. In the end, the author does little more than say that definitions vary considerably. She then throws out yet another "working definition" that even she acknowledges may be "very simplistic" and useful only as a heuristic device.

The book also inserts an obligatory discussion of ethical theories, but never establishes the standards by which one could determine which policy actions are noble or ignoble. …

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