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The Soft Cage
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Author of the acclaimed Lockdown America, Christian Parenti writes regularly for The Nation, the San Diego Union-Tribune, and the San Francisco Chronicle.

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Attempts to keep an eye on Americans are nothing new, Parenti argues in this well-researched albeit pedantic history of ways people have been controlled in the U.S. Relying on the theories of scholar Michel Foucault-who used surveillance and control as two of his central themes-Parenti begins with slavery, focusing on the slave passes that slaveowners used to keep their human property in place. He then moves on to new crime controls, like fingerprinting, that accompanied increased urbanization. Throughout, he emphasizes how new technology has always increased the government's ability to spy on its citizens. So it's no surprise that the current rise in technology comes in for special criticism. Credit cards, ATMs, highway toll passes such as E-ZPass are all tools that the government can employ to curtail freedom. There's a lot of food for thought here (and some troubling aspects of American history brought to light). But Parenti's lens is too sharp and his antigovernment animus too apparent. As he himself admits, most Americans seem to think that some liberties are worth trading in if they bring more security. There's no doubt that books focusing on this topic can be helpful contributions to the national discourse, but when Parenti sees post-September 11 not as a shift toward cracking down on civil liberties but as more of the same, many readers will likely feel he is a bit off base. (Sept. 15) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.

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