Observing Thinking

Observing Thinking
Observing Thinking

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Privacy: The Right to be Left Alone

August 12, 2012

According to a national poll sample [approximately 1,700 people] taken by Monmoth College, " An overwhelming majority of Americans support the idea of using drones [flying "armed robots"] to help with search and rescue missions (80%). Two-thirds of the public also support using drones to track down runaway criminals (67%) and control illegal immigration on the nation’s border (64%). One area where Americans say that drones should not be used, though, is to issue speeding tickets. Only 23% support using drones for this routine police activity while a large majority of 67% oppose the idea. " http://spectrum.ieee.org/automaton/robotics/military-robots/poll-shows-concern-about-drones-and-domestic-surveillance

Peter Singer, in his New York Times piece, "Do Drones Undermine Democracy?" (http://www.nytimes.com/2012/01/22/opinion/sunday/do-drones-undermine-democracy.html?pagewanted=print) points out that drone technology ( or in military jargon, "unmanned aerial systems") has raised important questions about the division of powers between the Congress and the President: "In America, our Constitution explicitly divided the president’s role as commander in chief in war from Congress’s role in declaring war. Yet these links and this division of labor are now under siege as a result of a technology that our founding fathers never could have imagined." Singer goes on to comment that,"... now we possess a technology that removes the last political barriers to war. The strongest appeal of unmanned systems is that we don’t have to send someone’s son or daughter into harm’s way. But when politicians can avoid the political consequences of the condolence letter — and the impact that military casualties have on voters and on the news media — they no longer treat the previously weighty matters of war and peace the same way." He comes concludes, "The Constitution did not leave war, no matter how it is waged, to the executive branch alone. In a democracy, it is an issue for all of us."

Rich Lowry, Editor of the National Review points out that, "Drones will no doubt raise novel issues under the Fourth Amendment, which prohibits unreasonable search and seizure. They will require rules. The same is true of any technology, of course. The Supreme Court held unanimously earlier this year that police can't attach a GPS tracker on someone's vehicle without a warrant. This isn't reason to ban all use of GPS trackers by law enforcement. The fear of drones is, in part, the fear of the new -- it is Luddism masquerading as civil libertarianism. " (Luddism is a perjorative term for folks who act like the Luddites of the nineteeth century destroying the new technology of the industrial revolution which threatend their livelhoods ). Lowry further states, "The influential conservative columnist Charles Krauthammer wants drones banned domestically and thinks the first American to shoot one down will be declared a national hero. Sen. Rand Paul considers them a clear and present danger to American freedom and is offering legislation to require a warrant every time one takes flight, except to patrol the border or in extraordinary circumstances. The drone is to our liberty what the wolf is to sheep, a natural enemy." http://newsok.com/rich-lowry-the-great-drone-panic/article/3691059#ixzz20FqmvhzD

From the Reason Online blog, Calvin Thompson opines, "It is a stretch to think that the same federal government that gave us the PATRIOT Act, the TSA, and the indiscriminate drone attacks on civilians in the Middle East would even think twice about violating domestic privacy rights." (http://reason.com/blog/2012/07/10/drone-code-of-conduct-says-and-accomplis)

Apparently this seems to be an isssue that Progressives and Libertarians can find common ground as both place a premium on individual rights including Privacy --- the right to be left alone.

"Watchbirds", a short story by Robert Sheckley written over fifty years ago, addresses this issue. Watchbirds were like our drones taken to the next level: they were equipped with learning circuitry which allowed them to discern when a crime was about to take place and could deliver a taser-like jolt to the would-be perpetrator thus preventing the intended crime. When one Watchbird learned something new ­-- it was automatically transferred to the whole flock so they became better and better at detecting and stopping crimes like murder until they began zapping fishermen who they had inferred were murdering the fish. I won't spoil where this goes --- I'll only reveal that the outcome is much much worse than anything the pundits or the politicians have mentioned. Read the story at: http://www.gutenberg.org/files/29579/29579-h/29579-h.htm

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