Recommended Reading

A lot of smart people have written a great many words on the topic of privacy. Here’s a selection which should give you a decent overview of the topic and its relevance to ordinary, everyday people right now. Crucially, you definitely don’t have to be a tech or law geek to follow these.

These are broken into three groups; shorter articles and essays that should take ten minutes or less to read, longer articles and, if you want to go all in, some accessible books.

Short articles, essays And Remarks

there are now computers in everything, but I want to suggest another way of thinking about it, in that everything is now a computer. This is not a phone, this is a computer that makes phone calls; or a refrigerator is a computer that keeps things cold; an ATM machine is a computer with money inside. Your car is not a mechanical device with computers, but a computer with four wheels and an engine, actually, a hundred computer distributed system with four wheels and an engine.

Bruce Schneier‘s introductory remarks to the US Congress Energy & Commerce Committee [direct PDF link], 2016


Privacy is a little like the concept of “freedom”. There’s no single accepted definition, but the diversity of ideas about it is what makes privacy such a powerful and universal idea. Sure, the law has defined certain elements of privacy, such as data protection, but it is a living and continually changing right.

Simon Davies, 2016

‘Seven lies about privacy (and how you can debunk them)’


Previously we could understand what was occurring over a telegram, telephone communication, and internet transaction. Now with the numerous sensors and scripts and cookies on our devices and services, we can’t tell what data is being generated and what is happening with that data.

Gus Hosein, 2016

‘Protecting Innovations and Protecting Data: Can we have surveillance and innovation?’


The best way to secure data is never to collect it in the first place. Data that is collected is likely to leak. Data that is collected and retained is certain to leak.

Cory Doctorow, 2016

‘The Privacy Wars Are About To Get A Whole Lot Worse’


In our attempt to feed the world to software, techies have built the greatest surveillance apparatus the world has ever seen. Unlike earlier efforts, this one is fully mechanized and in a large sense autonomous.

Maciej Ceglowski‘s remarks at the SASE Panel On The Moral Economy Of Technology, 2016


The only way to fully fix publishing, advertising and surveillance-corrupted business in general is to equip individuals with terms they can assert in dealing with others online — and to do it at scale. Meaning we need terms that work the same way across all the companies we deal with.

Doc Searls, 2016

‘The problem for people isn’t advertising, and the problem for advertising isn’t blocking. The problem for both is tracking.’


One way of working out if the data you’re gathering is particularly sensitive is to do a thought experiment: what would happen if this data got into the hands of a malicious actor? Who would be keen to get their hands on it? What are the worst things that they could do with this data?

Zara Rahman, 2016

‘Dangerous Data: The Role of Data Collection in Genocides’


that should have sent the Government’s data-sharing project, driven mainly by the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform and the Department of Social Protection, back to the drawing board. The drafting of legislation is still under way.

Yet a number of massive Government data-sharing projects have continued apace – almost as if the European ruling in Bara had not happened.

Elaine Edwards, 2016

‘Government continues data-sharing projects despite EU ruling’


Longer articles and essays

Grappling with the nothing to hide argument is important, because the argument reflects the sentiments of a wide percentage of the population. In popular discourse, the nothing to hide argument’s superficial incantations can readily be refuted.  But when the argument is made in its strongest form, it is far more formidable.

Daniel Solove, 2007

‘”I’ve Got Nothing to Hide” and Other Misunderstandings of Privacy’


If someone had told me even a few years ago that such a thing wasn’t pure coincidence, I would have had my doubts about that someone. Now, however, I reserve my doubts for the people who still trust. There are so many ghosts in our machines—their locations so hidden, their methods so ingenious, their motives so inscrutable—that not to feel haunted is not to be awake.

Walter Kirn, 2015

‘If You’re Not Paranoid, You’re Crazy’


The assault on behavioral data is so sweeping that it can no longer be circumscribed by the concept of privacy and its contests.  This is a different kind of challenge now, one that threatens the existential and political canon of the modern liberal order defined by principles of self-determination that have been centuries, even millennia, in the making.

Shoshana Zuboff, 2016

‘The Secrets of Surveillance Capitalism’


the marketing giant Acxiom has 23,000 computer servers processing in excess of 50 trillion data transactions annually. It keeps on average some 1,500 data points on more than 200 million Americans, in the form of “digital dossiers” on each individual, attaching to each person a thirteen-digit code that allows them to be followed wherever they go, combining online and offline data on individuals.

John Bellamy Foster and Robert W. McChesney, 2014

‘Surveillance Capitalism’



(These links go to, which is, of course, very interested in tracking you. Sometimes you just can’t win.)

Ubiquitous mass surveillance is the enemy of democracy liberty, freedom, and progress. Defending this assertion involves a subtle argument … but it’s vitally important to society. Think about it this way. Across the US, states are on the verge of reversing decades-old laws about homosexual relationships and marijuana use. If the old laws could have been perfectly enforced through surveillance, society would never have reached the point where the majority of citizens thought those things were okay. There has to be a period where they are still illegal yet increasingly tolerated, so that people can look around and say, “You know, that wasn’t so bad.”

Bruce Schneier, 2015

Data And Goliath: The Hidden Battles To Collect Your Data And Control Your World’


It is this shelter from observation that, I suggest, lies at the heart of the most cogent and compelling conception of privacy. The true meaning of privacy corresponds with out intuitive understanding and use of this fundamental democratic value. Privacy is, above all, a concern to protect sensitive information.

Raymond Wacks, 2015

‘Privacy: A Very Short Introduction’


I saw all kinds of parallels between finance and Big Data … In both of these industries, the real world, with all of its messiness, sits apart. The inclination is to replace people with data trails, turning them into more effective shoppers, voters, or workers to optimize some objective. This is easy to do, and to justify, when success comes back as an anonymous score and when the people affected remain every bit as abstract as the numbers dancing across the screen.

Cathy O’Neil, 2016

‘Weapons of Math Destruction: How Big Data Increases Inequality and Threatens Democracy’



Is there something obvious missing that needs to be on this list? Get in touch on Twitter @PrivacyKit or drop an email to hello [at] and let us know.

[Image credit: Jonathan Simcoe on Unsplash]