But his whole world changes when he and his friends find themselves caught in the aftermath of a major terrorist attack on San Francisco. In the wrong place at the wrong time, Marcus and his crew are apprehended by the Department of Homeland Security and whisked away to a secret prison where they’re mercilessly interrogated for days.
When the DHS finally releases them, Marcus discovers that his city has become a police state where every citizen is treated like a potential terrorist. He knows that no one will believe his story, which leaves him only one option: to take down the DHS himself.
First Line: "I'm a senior at Cesar Chavez High in San Franciso's sunny Mission district, and that makes me one of the most surveilled people in the world."
Random Quote: "In a pool of twenty million people, a 99 percent accurate test will identify two hundred thousand people as being terrorists. But only ten of them are terrorists. To catch ten bad guys, you have to haul in and investigate two hundred thousand innocent people."
Review: I read this on the recommendation of a Swedish friend from a mailing list where we've been talking about technology and culture for a really long time. This is a young adult book, but any adult will enjoy it. It tells the story of a dystopian near future where the Bay Bridge is blown up by terrorists giving a Bush-like government the chance to lock down the Bay Area. In an environment where electronic surveillance is becoming the norm, this book traces down the logical result and allows its teen hacker heroes to fix it. It's a fun story and the technology is realistically written.
While reading this book I realized that I've never had the sense of privacy that most people do. My parents were active politically and I remember the FBI sitting outside of our house quite often during the 1960's. I've been politically active my whole life from volunteering for a school board candidate when I was ten years old to volunteering as a clinic escort during Operation Rescue's "Summer of Mercy." I worked for an end to apartheid, in the anti-nuclear movement, and in local, state, and federal election campaigns. I've been shoved, called everything under the sun, spit on, tear gassed, and pepper sprayed. I've seen people being beaten by police, have had to sign my name to a CIA document to be allowed to see a film on nuclear power, and have been photographed numerous times. This experience has contributed to my feeling that the only privacy any of us really have is in our heads.
Crowd being pepper sprayed at WTO protests, 1999, Seattle - Image via Wikipedia
I loathe the ways this country has taken the tragedy of 9/11 as an opportunity to scapegoat and regularly violate the constitutional rights of our own citizens (not to mention those foreigners unlucky enough to be held under our control). Our government has used the fear created by a terrorist event to enhance its ability to keep us under control, under their eyes, vulnerable. This is how we let terrorists win. They don't even have to kill us - just destroy our constitution and the fundamental principles of our democracy.
Doctorow's book addresses all kinds of privacy and security with a reminder that security doesn't remain static - there's always someone else out there who's smarter than you and can break your measures. Although a bit long and repetitive in the middle and with some troubling hanging threads, I really enjoyed this book.
FTC Disclosure: Borrowed from the Berkeley Public Library