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Black Code: Inside the Battle for Cyberspace

by Ronald J. Deibert

Like it or not, the Internet has become unavoidable for many people in the knowledge economy. “Cyberspace is everywhere,” says Ronald J. Deibert, director of the Canada Centre for Global Security Studies, and its reach and penetration are advancing at an unprecedented rate.

Notwithstanding the ubiquity of the Internet, much about its inner workings remains deliberately hidden from the average user. Some of this “black code” is criminal in nature, but in this bracing book Deibert also points to other secretive practices such as corporate data mining, state security operations, and even informal hacking by libertarian groups.  

The “battle” of the subtitle isn’t a struggle between police and hackers, or among different nation states, so much as a struggle for the soul of cyberspace itself. Deibert, an idealistic cyber-crusader, argues that things aren’t turning out the way they were supposed to, but that what we have seen thus far is typical of the evolution of modern communications technologies.

Though Deibert covers a lot of ground, a few arguments stand out. Chief among these is the need for netizens to educate themselves about their vulnerability to Big Brother and Big Data, and the need to stay alert to the dangers of an online environment dominated by a cyber-security-entertainment-industrial complex. For easily manipulable citizens, apathy can become complicity in our own control at the hands of millions of little bits of information. When Deibert likens Facebook to “a giant python that has consumed a rat,” he’s sounding an alarm for (nearly) all of us.   

Black Code is a timely book, and like most timely books, one suspects that a lot of the specifics won’t be relevant five or 10 years from now. The essential political message, however, is as old as Toqueville, and more vital than ever.