Surveillance by Bernard Keane

I was sent this book by Allen and Unwin as an ARC, in exchange for a free review.

This book piqued my interest before I had read it, I saw it in a catalogue for future releases, and the little synopsis caught my eye. The general idea is that, as we all know, governments are spying on their citizens, and this book takes a look at this, and what might happen when the government gets spied on in turn. This isn’t really anything that new, a la Wikileaks and Snowden. But there’s a lot more complexity there that I’m not even going to mention so you can find out for yourselves.

It’s set in Australia, which as an Australian I always do like to see, and we follow quite a number of individuals as the hacking unfolds, and the government and all it’s organisations, ASIO, ASCS, AG, AFP, ASD, DMO, all of the acronyms, scramble to get on top of things. At first I was a little overwhelmed by the number of characters, because the perspective is split between them all. But, I eventually really began to appreciate the vast array of views we were given. I’d guess that there was something like 8 POVs. So that took a little while to get under control.

We are also following mainly characters who work at Veldtech Industries, a security company, dealing with businesses and governments, and trying to protect their networks. So having it from this perspective is quite interesting, we do get a government and a journalist’s perspective as well, but this invested interest perspective I found a nice take. And seeing it from so many perspectives is a strength of the book, because we get to see all the little threads take place, and a really much richer story than possible otherwise. It was well done too, just took a bit of getting used to.

One of the really good things about this, was that it was so believable. I could totally see this happening in real life, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it has happened. The government being completely incompetent. The looming, powerful corporation. The media personality following the story. Everything was so believable, including all the character’s lives. They get up to some ‘interesting’ things, but it’s all a reflection of real life.

It certainly did make me more paranoid about cyber security. But it also made me contemplate just where is the line for governments on cyber security and anti-terrorism surveillance. Do we just give them complete access in exchange for increased safety? Or trade off some privacy for an increase in likelihood of terrorism? It’s a tough question, but the important thing is to ensure that we get it right from the start, because once something is in place, it basically is never going to be removed. A government will never want to be known as the government that wound down its security agencies and ended up with an attack. In Australia we’ve recently had meta-data retention passed into law, as well as the ability to block piracy sites, so this is a really timely book to bring about some discussion.

I don’t really have much to complain about with the story, I mean yes there were predictable elements going on, and for the most part I wasn’t completely shocked by any of the events, but it was engaging and there was always a lot going on. I think it was well written, and a really good idea. I’m quite impressed.


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