Today’s L.A. Times gives a good review to Skating on Stilts, citing parts of the book that VC readers should be familiar with:
“Skating on Stilts” is full of … anecdotes, and Baker, who was a key Homeland Security player from 2005 to 2009, makes a persuasive case against the privacy absolutists. He reprises his successful effort to pry airline passenger data out of the Europeans, who are even more uncompromising about privacy than American activists. He tells the story of how the wall erected between intelligence-gathering by the FBI and law enforcement, though designed to protect civil liberties, ended up blinding authorities to the unfolding 9/11 plot. And he recounts how other agencies blocked, on privacy grounds, DHS’ bid to maintain and update a database to continually screen the backgrounds of scientists who work with deadly biological pathogens.
Baker deftly skewers the original legal theorist behind the right to privacy, Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis, who was scandalized in 1890 by the fact that newspapers published flattering details about a party at his house. Brandeis also found it outrageous that a newspaper could take and publish a photo of a person without his permission. Obviously, the idea of what constitutes an invasion of privacy has evolved dramatically. Baker portrays privacy advocates as fussy Luddites.
When the government collects information about people, Baker acknowledges, some bureaucrats may improperly access it, as when State Department employees rifled Barack Obama’s passport file during the 2008 presidential campaign. But the employees were easily caught and disciplined, Baker notes. The answer is to hold bureaucrats accountable for abuses, he says, not deny them important security tools.