Spying with Maps: Surveillance Technologies and the Future of Privacy (review)
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Spying with Maps: Surveillance Technologies and the Future of Privacy. By Mark Monmonier. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2002. Pp. x+239. $25.

The premise of this book is a good one. Mark Monmonier, Distinguished Professor of Geography at Syracuse University, posits that the increased use of powerful information tools poses threats to individual privacy. This is a situation that anybody with Internet access can get a taste of: Go to any on-line telephone listing and look up a name anywhere in the United States; with a few clicks of a mouse you can easily get driving directions to that person's front door. It is a stalker's dream.

The civil liberties and privacy concerns raised by powerful new information tools are certainly daunting. But this is not a book about legal issues. It is primarily about some of these tools and how they are being used and occasionally abused. What Monmonier poses is an intriguing question of "locational privacy," or the right to have your location remain a secret. Unfortunately, the book is rather unfocused, as is apparent even from the title. It and the book's cover strongly imply that Spying with Maps is about the use of satellites to spy on citizens from above. But the relatively new field of commercial imagery satellites is only briefly discussed. Many of the informational resources to which Monmonier refers, such as facial recognition software, traffic cameras, and on-line listings of sex offenders, are not [End Page 675] maps in the traditional sense, and all are firmly ground based. Furthermore, much of the data that government and private companies gather about individuals is aggregated by these tools in order to make it useful. This also makes it impossible to recover the individual information.

Occasionally Monmonier raises some scary issues, such as how in the near future many cell phones will be equipped so as to enable the government to locate the user. Intended to assist in finding 911 callers who aren't able to give their location, this would also enable tracking people who may be under suspicion of something or other. Currently several companies, such as OnStar, offer a system that can track the location of your car, advertising this as a benefit in event of accident or auto theft. But the potential for abuse is chilling.

The book is not intended to be a jeremiad, but in trying to discuss both the positives and negatives of the technologies it fails to pose any real solutions. Monmonier's only recommendation seems to be to "keep a watch out" for abuses. But it would not be hard to produce a list of tips for maintaining "locational privacy." Start with an unlisted phone number. Don't provide personal information to companies you deal with. And so on. All of these actions have costs, and perhaps regulation concerning the collection and transfer of personal information, both by government and private industry, is called for. But Monmonier seems unwilling to make a strong case for it.

Spying with Maps is a decent introduction to the subject of geographic information tools and locational privacy. But a civil libertarian is not going to find any solutions here to the welter of problems he foresees.

Dwayne A. Day

Dr. Day writes frequently about the history of satellite reconnaissance.