Habeas Data

Privacy vs. the Rise of Surveillance Tech

You are being watched.

Whether through your phone or your car or your credit card, caught on a CCTV camera or tracked through your online viewing history, government agencies know where you are, and are quietly collecting your most intimate, mundane, and personal information.

Is this even legal?

Habeas Data shows how the explosive growth of surveillance technology has outpaced our understanding of the ethics, mores, and laws of privacy.

Award-winning tech reporter Cyrus Farivar makes the case by taking ten historic court decisions that defined our privacy rights and matching them against the capabilities of modern technology. It’s an approach that combines the charge of a legal thriller with the shock of the daily headlines.

Chapters include: the 1960s prosecution of a bookie that established the “reasonable expectation of privacy” in nonpublic places beyond your home (but how does that ruling apply now, when police can chart your every move and hear your every conversation within your own home — without even having to enter it?); the 1970s case where the police monitored a lewd caller — the decision of which is now the linchpin of the NSA’s controversial metadata tracking program revealed by Edward Snowden; and a 2010 low-level burglary trial that revealed police had tracked a defendant’s past 12,898 locations before arrest — an invasion of privacy grossly out of proportion to the alleged crime, which showed how authorities are all too willing to take advantage of the ludicrous gap between the slow pace of legal reform and the rapid transformation of technology.

A dazzling exposé that journeys from Oakland, California to the halls of the Supreme Court to the back of a squad car, Habeas Data combines deft reportage, deep research, and original interviews to offer an X-ray diagnostic of our current surveillance state.


April 9 — UC Davis School of Law
April 12 — 
Marquette University Law School
April 19 — The Center for Cyber Security Studies, US Naval Academy
April 26 — Sonoma State University
May 2 — Oakland, Ca, Main Library
May 5 — Oakland, Ca, Diamond Branch Library
May 9 — University of Washington Tech Policy Lab and Happy Hour (email [email protected] for more info or to RSVP)
May 12 — San Francisco, Writers with Drinks
May 14 — Stanford Law School
May 14 — Santa Clara University School of Law
May 17 — UC Hastings, at LexLab
May 20 — Los Angeles, Skylight Books
May 22 — Santa Monica, Diesel, A Bookstore
May 30 — Berkeley, Pegasus Books
June 11 — Washington, DC, the R Street Institute
June 12 — Baltimore, the Ivy Bookshop
June 14 — Oakland, Ars Technica Live at Eli’s Mile High Club
June 27 — Menlo Park, In Deep Radio at Kepler’s Books

CYRUS FARIVAR is the Senior Business Editor at Ars Technica and the author of The Internet of Elsewhere. He is also a radio producer and has reported for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, National Public Radio, Public Radio International, The EconomistWired, The New York Times, and others.

”A lively catalog of privacy-related court cases and laws that have arisen alongside new technologies.”— Sue Halpern, The New York Review of Books

“A lively history of recent Fourth Amendment jurisprudence … Farivar is correct that among the many things the tech industry has disrupted is Fourth Amendment jurisprudence.” — Louis Menand, The New Yorker

“A great book. Cyrus Farivar shows that the government, at all levels, needs to be more forthright about what kind of surveillance is used on all of us. The law desperately needs to catch up.” —Ted Lieu, U.S. Representative for California’s 33rd congressional district

Habeas Data should be required reading for all public officials who want to better understand the near-future of privacy and surveillance.” Libby Schaaf, Mayor of Oakland, CA

“Essential reading for anyone concerned with how technology has overrun privacy.” — Mitch Kapor, co-founder Electronic Frontier Foundation

“Farivar’s work is essential, smart and cogent.” —Cory Doctorow, author of Walkaway

“Cyrus Farivar pulls back the curtain on how the government has transformed everyday technologies into surveillance machines, and public and private places into surveillance traps — part deep-dive into how everything from your smartphone to your home can be used as a surveillance tool, and part crash-course in the court cases that both help and fail to constrain the government’s most privacy-invasive activities. Should be at the top of everyone’s must-read list.” —Robyn Greene, policy counsel, the Open Technology Institute at New America

“A  powerful book that looks at how two invisible forces—law and technology—combine to change the world we live in and the future that is available to us.” —Matt Mitchell, founder CryptoHarlem

“Cyrus Farivar has covered the excitement and tensions of big data collection for years. He his perfectly positioned, with this new book, to chart the history that brought us here and suss out where we’re going next.” —Emily Bazelon, author of Sticks and Stones & co-host of Slate’s Political Gabfest